Context: After battling injuries for much of his career, veteran southpaw Jaime Garcia has managed to remain relatively healthy over the past two calendar years, making 63 appearances (61 starts) since coming off the DL in July of 2015. After a rough four-start stretch heading into the All-Star break during which he yielded 23 earned runs in 22 innings, Garcia has bounced back off ten days of rest to produce consecutive seven-inning quality starts against two of the top four offenses in baseball by VORP. His affordable, expiring contract and roughly league-average production (101 cFIP) make him an attractive, low-cost acquisition target for any contender in need of lengthening its rotation. After nearly being dealt to the Twins on Friday, Garcia beat the Dodgers with an impressive outing that I attended. What follows below are first-hand scouting notes on that start, along with a comparison to trends during that ugly four-game losing streak.
Physical/Health: Garcia has Tommy John and rotator cuff surgeries on his resume, and while he’s remained relatively healthy over the last couple seasons, durability is not an asset. His velocity has routinely flagged during the course of starts this season, with his four-seam sitting 92.02 the first time through the order, then dropping to 91.42 second time through and 90.78 thereafter. This trend held on Friday, when he came out 91-92 early before losing a tick and working 90-91 by his seventh and final frame. After working in the zone just north of 40 percent of the time for his career, that number plummeted to 33.7 percent during the bad stretch.
Mechanics: Up-tempo, fluid takeaway, mild lower-half hitch into drive disrupts timing; closed front side, clean, compact arm action to high-three-quarters slot, solid-average arm speed; moderate drive, off-line, mildly closed stride, inverted at strike, mild crossfire with some spine tilt; athletic, fluid through landing and deceleration, will dead-arm finish
Repeatable delivery despite crossfire and some imbalance, no violence, closed shoulder and an arm swing that stays behind his body combine to create late pickup at slot.
Fastball: Garcia works off both a two- and four-seam fastball, utilizing their divergent movements and relative life to reach all four quadrants effectively. Both work in the same velocity window, which on Friday was 90-02 (t93), and for the season has been a sitting velocity of 91.5 (t94).
The two-seam fastball has produced a fairly lethal combination this year of excellent whiff (21.9 percent, 96th percentile) and groundball (68 percent, 92nd percentile) rates. He doesn’t do it with aggregate movement—his sinker moves less than average on both planes—but rather through a combination of late movement, deception, and command. His mechanics are such that the arm doesn’t appear to the hitter until very late, and he generates quality extension and plane from a higher arm slot.
On Friday he deployed the four-seam as his primary variant, frequently working it to the glove side, though showing the command it east-west effectively. It’s a straight fastball that generates above-average vertical action, and for the first several innings on Friday he was able to spot the pitch effectively around the zone, usually on the back end of a two-seam or off-speed sequence. He showed notable willingness to work the pitch in on right-handed hitters, attacking the hands and beating barrels to the spot to generate weak contact.
There’s some danger inherent to this approach, as the pitch’s lack of movement and average velocity leaves him reliant on effective sequencing and consistent execution. His command of the pitch played above-average on Friday, but his aggregate performance with the pitch suggests a more average profile. During the four-start period where he produced poor results, his command was a primary driver, with both variants wandering north in the zone, and the sinker missing consistently below it as well. He got away from the four-seamer a bit during this stretch, instead falling behind in counts with a more erratic two-seamer and getting hit on both variants alike when he was in the zone.
The four-seamer plays marginally above its velocity with deception to provide average baseline utility. The margin for error is thinner than most, and the lack of movement on the pitch makes it vulnerable during the second time through the order and especially thereafter, when his command wobbles with fatigue. Left-handed hitters appear to see the pitch a bit better than righties, as it come from the higher slot and on a plane that same-handed hitters can track. His willingness to work the inner-third against righties helps the pitch’s effectiveness as a split neutralizer. So long as he spots the pitch, it plays well within his arsenal, and he showed ample ability on Friday to do so consistently.
Above-average command, late movement, and plus tunneling with his changeup (more on this below) combine to help this variant play above its average radar-gun reading. Hitters struggle to barrel this pitch, though when he struggles to command it down it flattens out into a relatively hittable offering higher up in the zone. During his poor four-start stretch, batters hit .387 and slugged .677 against the offering, underlining the lack of margin for erroneous command.
Four-seam FB vs. LHH and RHH (2017 season)
Two-seam FB vs. LHH and RHH (2017 season)
Breaking Pitches: Pitches three and four in Garcia’s arsenal are a slider that he throws about 12 percent of the time, and a sporadic curveball that he’ll throw once every 15 pitches or so. He was a bit less enthusiastic about deploying the slider last Friday, and all told only threw a bend on a combined 14 of his 91 pitches. There’s a decent amount of two-plane break on his slider, though the pitch plays a bit sweepy at times and lacks for a ton of bite. He commanded it well, taking it from strike to ball with each of his eight efforts and finishing it consistently down and to the glove side.
That was not the case during his poor stretch, as he hung a few more than normal and paid for it when he did to the tune of a couple extra base hits and a .500 slugging against. He’s generally able to garner an above-average whiff rate with the pitch, but righties seem to be able to track his spin in the zone pretty well, earning their .549 slugging percentage-against with a bunch of hard contact.
The curveball is a show-me pitch, with below-average movement and a rounder shape. He displayed a reasonable feel for controlling the pitch in a handful of efforts on Friday, with each one of the six he threw offered to a right-handed hitter and kept arm-side, away from turn-on-able locations. One hung a bit, and while it finished below the zone it was tracked and lined hard for a base hit.
His spin has taken a step backwards in its consistency and effectiveness this season, resulting in more mistakes getting hit to better effect even as he’s still shown a nice ability to miss bats with the slider.
Flashes above-average movement and swing-miss, but it can also lack for shape and prove trackable for opposite-handed hitters. It has shown the ability to play as an average pitch in the past, and looked like it could probably pass for a 50 pitch on Friday. But there’ve been enough bouts of inconsistency this season, including during his poor June-July stretch, that it is playing as more of a fringe-average arsenal component at present.
Fringe-average ball-to-strike utility, functional pitch when properly deployed thanks to above-average depth. Rounder shape and lack of bite limit it as a chaser and out pitch.
Off-Speed Pitches: Garcia’s two-seam fastball and changeup pairing rates as an elite combination in terms of post-tunnel break, meaning that even when hitters correctly identify Garcia’s changeup by velocity, its late tumble off the fastball plane makes barreling the pitch extremely difficult. The combination’s effectiveness was on display through the middle innings on Friday. The 7.5 mile-and-hour velocity separation is below-average, and the pitch lacks for fade. But he sells it with consistent arm speed and seasoned conviction, and draws out above-average tumble that parrots the line and action of his sinker. He generates a well-above-average number of whiffs out of right-handed bats with the cambio, rating in the 86th percentile among pitchers (min. 100 thrown). The pitch’s 71-percent groundball rate on balls in play is fourth-best out of the 111 starting pitchers in that sample.
After establishing his fastballs early on Friday, Garcia introduced the changeup in earnest in the fourth inning, during his second trip through the heart of the order. He left one flat and hittable in the middle of the zone that Justin Turner yanked hard inside the third-base bag, but otherwise the pitch yielded no quality contact while coaxing three empty swings throughout the night. He displayed trust and confidence in the pitch, throwing it off the fastball, opening a couple at-bats with it, and doubling up on one occasion with perfect execution on back-to-back strikes to Kike Hernandez in the second inning.
Garcia’s whiff and groundball rates remained relatively consistent with the change during his rough patch, though two bad apples deposited over outfield fences conspired to dramatically inflate the performance numbers against it in a small sample.
The change is currently playing as Garcia’s one true plus pitch in the arsenal, with late, complementary movement that is generating outstanding results this season. While the pitch still moves less than an average change horizontally, his ball is currently fading more than it ever has, and perhaps not coincidentally, he’s also generating a career-best groundball rate with the pitch.
Simple pickup move, does not appear to be a point of emphasis; mild tempo variance, lower leg kick requires quicker weight transfer; slow from first move, 1.54-1.65, can run on him a bit.
On Friday night Garcia’s command was locked in early, as he moved the ball around and below the zone at will, before losing his timing a bit in the fifth inning. When he tired, the closed front side had trouble finding consistency and adequate balance coming downhill, resulting in his arm dragging slightly and a few balls flattening out in hittable zones. In an era that has seen pitchers increasingly consolidate their approach in the bottom portions of the zone, Garcia’s approach is notable in that he utilized the entirety of the strike zone. He deploys a deep arsenal of workable pitches highlighted by an above-average two-seamer and plus change that play very well together. The command is above-average, and he changes speeds and eye level with advanced sequencing to keep hitters off-balance. That allows him to stay in the zone more than typical for a pitcher with less-than-dominant stuff, and he currently boasts the third-best rate of pitch-per-inning efficiency (14.7) of any starter in baseball.
We’ll keep it simple and just call it “veteran calm.” He’s restrained and focused on the mound, a low-heartbeat presence who goes about his business with consistency and purpose. He’ll show occasional mild frustration after missing a spot, but his is a calming, consistent demeanor that breeds confidence that he’s in control of the situation.
Recommendation to Acquire: The pitcher that I saw on Friday night can help any team win ballgames. He effectively showed that he has moved past a rough four-start stretch heading into the All-Star break, reverting to working off a complementary four-seam fastball that set up his deep arsenal. While he should not be counted upon to turn over a lineup more than twice—hitters are currently pummeling him to the tune of a .325/.403/.569 line on third glance—he can add value as a quality, league-average, five-inning starter. Especially for a team already situated with a quality bullpen that can effectively bridge the middle innings (coughYankeescough (ed. Note: coughTwinscough)), his affordability and potential for back-end stability makes a lot of sense. I recommend for acquisition.