Freddy Garcia’s changeup is something else

Looking at Soriano's cutter against lefties
The RAB Radio Show: February 1, 2011
PEEKABOO! (Paul Sancya/AP)

As Mike and Ben noted last night, nothing particularly stands out about Freddy Garcia’s 2010 campaign. Everything basically screams slightly below average. But he still managed a 94 ERA+ in 157 innings, which is almost identical to the best season of Sergio Mitre‘s career. It’s not hard to envision Garcia breaking camp in the Yanks rotation, so let’s take a closer look at the one weapon that has allowed him to remain average-ish, even after shoulder surgery cost him parts of three seasons.

As is the case with many right-handed starting pitchers, Garcia faced more lefties than he did righties in 2010. That can be trouble for a soft-tosser. Yet Garcia realized better results against lefties than he did against righties. These results included a slightly higher strikeout rate, a lower home run rate, and a lower FIP and xFIP. He got lefties to hit more ground balls and fewer line drives. Judging from the data we have available, it appears that he accomplished this with a pretty nasty changeup.

Against lefties Garcia threw his changeup 559 times, or 42.9 percent of all his pitches. His fastball wasn’t used nearly as often, just 344 times, or 26.4 percent. There appears to be good reason for this. Garcia generated very few swings and misses with the fastball, just 7.8 percent, which makes it by far his most hittable pitch for lefties. He also allows lefties to hit it in the air more often than his other pitches. His changeup, on the other hand, generates far more swings and misses, 22.1 percent, and he keeps the ball on the ground almost half the time. Swings and misses plus ground balls is an excellent combination.

Here’s where Garcia placed his changeup in 2010 against lefties:

This breakdown makes complete sense once we look at the results, which we can find at Joe Lefkowitz’s website. The lefties do not like the changeup on the outer third. Middle down appears to be an effective location, too.

The only issue with the changeup is command, as both charts make clear. You can see a concentration of white near the middle of the zone. Unsurprisingly, lefties eat this pitch for breakfast, hitting .480 with a .760 SLG against it. He’s going to put a pitch there from time to time, and we’re going to eat our collective hats when the ball travels 400 feet. But we can take solace in Garcia’s general effectiveness against lefties.

A glance at Garcia’s splits reveals that while he strikes out a few more lefties and allows fewer homers, he does walk them more than he does righties. This has a lot to do with fastball location. The only zone in which he experienced significant success with the fastball against lefties in 2010 was middle down. That might be why he throws the fastball outside the zone.

Against righties Garcia mixes his pitches a bit more. Last year when facing same-handed batters he threw his fastball 32 percent of the time, his slider 30.2 percent, and his changeup 27.5 percent. Again, he didn’t generate many swings and misses on the fastball, which is to be expected when it averages around 88 mph. It appears that command might have been an issue with this, too. An 88 mph fastball in one of those white zones must look awfully tempting for a righty at bat.

It’s pretty clear that there will be ups and downs for Garcia. He wasn’t terrible against either lefties or righties last season, and with his changeup he’s proven particularly capable against lefties. I do wonder if he could work in his splitter a bit more often, at least against righties. He delivers it at around the same speed as his changeup, but righties seemingly beat it into the ground. But since he threw it only 114 times all of last season, I’m not counting on anything in that regard.

The Yankees don’t expect the world from Freddy Garcia. He represents a decent choice for a back-end starter who can eat some innings early in the year. He does have some strong points, foremost of which is his ability to handle lefties using his changeup. If he can continue what he was doing last year he should help shore up the Yanks rotation. If he can’t, they’re on the hook for nothing.

Looking at Soriano's cutter against lefties
The RAB Radio Show: February 1, 2011
  • AndrewYF

    Well, if he can’t they’re technically on the hook for $1.5M, but as we saw with CHoP they don’t really care about small sunk costs during the season.

    • Ted Nelson

      If he makes the team during spring training.

  • Monteroisdinero

    Now if he can teach Joba to throw that changeup for strikes, we will have something to celebrate.

    • Mike Axisa

      Forget Joba, he doesn’t need a changeup as a reliever. Teach it to Hughes.

      • The Captain


        And then make Hughes actually USE it. After all, if you don’t use it, you lose it.

      • Monteroisdinero

        I was referring to Joba as a starter would be a celebration. Agree on Hughes too.

      • king of fruitless hypotheticals


  • Rey22

    You could certainly do worse than Garcia as your #5. If Pettitte comes back, I’ll take our chances.

    • Karess

      An intelligent answer – no BS – which makes a paleanst change

  • mike hc

    Nice analysis. This sounds pretty good to me for a couple million.

  • Joe

    There’s something oddly comforting about having a rotation candidate that we know something about. Even if the results don’t stand to be great. Maybe it’s just having an option other than Mitre

    • 28 this year

      Honestly, I think its a case of the grass is greener on the other side. Mitre isn’t good but none of the others are any good either. Its just a matter of the guy we see all the time vs. a guy we just kinda hear about.

      • jsbrendog (returns)

        well it is heart warming that garcia’s year last year after 3 injuries, old age, etc etc was equal to mitre’s career year.

      • Ted Nelson

        It’s also about spreading your risk and increasing your odds of getting at least one passable starter for some portion of the season.

  • The Three Amigos

    Like anything else, pitchers go on rolls all the time. Let’s hope the Yanks get lucky and he goes on a two month roll and then that’s it. Move on to one of the kids.

  • Alex K.

    Love those charts. Now I know what the Predator sees when he’s pitching.

    • Big Apple

      with all these charts the last few days I feel the need to see a dr…i think I have a goiter or something.

  • Big Apple

    the yanks’ lineup can win with a monkey in the 4th and 5th spots…assuming they hit to their potential

    • JoeyH

      Well if you look closely at Colon,I can see some monkey in him…

  • nsalem

    Garcia delivered quality starts last year 18 out 28 time (64%) as compared to Mitre who is 1 for 13 (7%) in his Yankee career. Having somebody who can bring us into the 7th inning on a consistent basis should translate to a good amount of W’s for a 5th starter on the Yankees. Last year Hughes had 15 out of 31 quality starts (no I am not suggesting he has more of an upside than Hughes) for 48% and I am afraid to see what AJ and Javy did. Under the circumstances and for the price we are paying I am very happy with this acquisition.

    • Ted Nelson

      Good points.

      • Mike

        Ok so he has a great changeup. Someone needs to teach him the cutter. If he works on control he can be effective. Granted 88 mph fastball in the bigs isn’t dominating but what Woud it take to get his speed to improve mph?

    • Pasqua

      Good point. If he can eat those innings, then he serves to make our very, very good bullpen more valuable. Yes, please.

  • BavarianYankee

    I’m not a big Garcia fan at all but I think he’s still able to post an ERA around 4.50. That’s all you can ask for and I would take that from a #5 starter any day. And I think Nova will be better than most of us expect him to be.

    • The Captain

      I’m a big Nova fan and I share your positivity about his 2011, but Garcia is garbage.

      I would take a 4.50 ERA from him for the first couple months of the year, but once everybody gets their legs (and arms) under them and gets in a groove, that ERA is going to skyrocket and he’s going to get exposed for not having any stuff left.

      By then, somebody, if not multiple somebodies, should have earned a shot at the 5th spot in Triple-A and it should be their time. If you’re the Yankees, and Garcia manages to make the team out of ST, you take whatever you get from him early in the season and cut him as soon as he starts to bomb.

  • JoeyH

    RAB analyzes DNA now? Wow.