In praise of the 87.5 mph heat

Has Cano's plate discipline taken a step back?
Feliciano advised to start shoulder rehab program
(Frank Franklin II/AP)

What can a man do with a mid-80s fastball? Not much, if recent history is any guide. A few pitchers have sat in that range — Jamie Moyer most prominently — but few have experienced success. The hope with Freddy Garcia was that he could get his fastball into the upper 80s. Early in spring training he said that he was effective when his fastball was around 88, but got hit around when it dipped below that. And so it might not have seemed like a good sign that his fastest pitch on Saturday was 87.5 mph.

Yet we know that he pitched as well as he did in any start last season, allowing no runs on just two hits and a walk while facing one of the league’s most potent offenses. His fastball averaged just under 86 mph, and he hit that 87.5 speed maybe three times all game. Garcia went to his heat 35 times and generated no swings and misses, yet it still represented his best linear weights score, per Brooks Baseball (just combine the top two rows). Yes, that’s 35 fastballs, 24 strikes. He complemented that by mixing in 24 changeups, 16 sliders, 6 curves, and something that PitchFX classified as a splitter. It all made for a nice mix of pitches and speeds.

This is exactly how Garcia will need to approach every start if he’s going to succeed for the Yankees. Fastballs in pitchers’ counts, off-speed stuff in hitters’ counts — overall, a near-random selection of pitches that will keep hitters guessing. That’s how Garcia can succeed while throwing in the mid 80s.

It’s early still, and there’s a chance that Garcia’s fastball ramps up as the weather warms, but that’ no guarantee. Last year he averaged 88.5 mph on his fastball in April, but then just 87.5 mph the rest of the way. He did adjust then, though, leaning on his changeup far more often than his fastball, and mixing in the slider more prominently. I can see similar changes this year, especially if his velocity follows a similar trend.

Today on the podcast I asked Mike whether he believed that Garcia could continue getting hitters out with the general slop he threw on Saturday. He gave the answer that I’ve been wrestling with: heart says yes, head says no. How can anyone succeed throwing mostly off-speed junk? I’m not sure, but we not only saw Garcia do it on Saturday, but we saw him do it against one of the league’s best offenses — one that tagged up his rotation mates Ivan Nova and CC Sabathia.

Chances are Garcia can’t sustain this. But that’s not my concern right now. All I want to do is heap a little praise on a guy who, without any semblance of a major league fastball, spun, tilted, and palmed his way through a tough lineup. It was an impressive debut, and an important one, too. With Hughes on the DL, CC getting off to a slow start, and Nova struggling, the Yanks needed that from Garcia.

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Has Cano's plate discipline taken a step back?
Feliciano advised to start shoulder rehab program
  • HyShai

    So why can’t Hughes do this? Is it only vets that have this figured out?

    • Mike HC

      Everyone is on a different learning curve, and everyone has a different work ethic, but for the most part, it comes with doing the same thing year after year after year for 10+ years. Learning the small things about your body and game, that can only come through practice and experience.

      That is why it is far easier to just have superior stuff, which Hughes apparently lost, for the time being at least, over the off season.

      • mustang

        I think it can be taught without the years of experience. However, in today’s game getting a young pitcher with ” superior stuff” to buy into learning the art of pitching is difficult.

        • Mike HC

          I just think it is all but impossible to speed up the learning curve. Knowing little things like when to take a little bit off, or put a little bit on, when to move a hitter off the plate, being able to control your emotions, and so many other small things, can not possibly be taught in a relatively sort span compared to the rest of the players in the game, who have had much more time to figure these things out.

          Agreed about your second point though. Only a few have the work ethic to take the next step when they are already good enough to make millions being a good pitcher in MLB. And those are called Hall of Famers.

          • Mike HC

            *short span

          • mustang

            I think its less of speeding up the learning curve and more opening up to learning. I agree that certain things just come with experience, but others can be taught if the pitcher is open to it.
            I do see your point well done.

          • Ted Nelson

            I think that every player has a different learning curve. What part of that is attributable to nature, nurture, work ethic, etc… I don’t know. Probably also varies by player. Some players hit MLB in their early 20s with a superior understanding of the game (not that it can’t or won’t improve with experience, but relative to league average say), and some guys spend 10, 15 years in the bigs and don’t seem to learn squat except how to let their natural abilities shine through (of course even those guys have learned stuff over the years, just that they might still be relatively baseball dumb).

            • Mike HC

              My first sentence in this thread, “Everyone is on a different learning curve, and everyone has a different work ethic …”

              • Ted Nelson

                I did miss that, but you also said thing that contradict that like:

                “Learning the small things about your body and game, that can only come through practice and experience.”

                “small things, can not possibly be taught in a relatively sort span compared to the rest of the players in the game”

                • Mike HC

                  I don’t see how that is contradictory. No matter the performance level you enter the majors at, which varies player to player, there are things that can only be learned through experience and practice. Guys that start at a higher level, will have a higher ceiling and ability to add more aspects to their game, than guys who start at a lower level.

                  The original comment referenced Hughes, and why he can’t just learn how to pitch like Garcia has pitched in that first start and starts last year. Point being, Hughes does not posses the same level of pitching acumen as Garcia. He was supposed to have far superior stuff, but now that he doesn’t, he cant just learn to pitch like Garcia by being “taught” it the next couple of weeks.

                  • Ted Nelson

                    I guess it’s the difference between “savvy” and “ability.” The two are inter-related in that they both go into determining a player’s success, but are two distinct things. Different players fall onto different parts of both spectrums.
                    So, it’s not performance level that we’re talking about. A 22 year old can enter at a high performance level on his natural tools without having the savvy that we’re really talking about.

                    It’s pitching acumen, but also the ability to put it to use. Hughes might know damn well that a change-up is an effective pitch, he just can’t throw it well. It’s pretty hard to separate ability and savvy as an outside observer. Hughes could know a curve or change in a certain spot would be a great pitch (and if he doesn’t, Russell Martin might), but not believe he can throw it… which introduces a whole ‘nother aspect: the mental side of things… is it that Hughes can’t throw it physically, or he lacks the confidence?

                    I agree that he’s not going to learn it in the next couple of weeks.

                    • Mike HC

                      Once again, I fail to really see what point you are trying to make and don’t even know how to respond. All good though. It is probably a me problem.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          However, in today’s game getting a young pitcher with ” superior stuff” to buy into learning the art of pitching is difficult.

          Meh, I think it has less to do with “today’s game” or “young pitchers” or “superior stuff” and has more to do with the fact that learning the art of pitching is a slow process that takes years (regardless of a player’s beginning talent level) and can’t really be hurried, expedited, or shortcutted in any way.

          I have no evidence that says that Phil Hughes isn’t “buying into” the importance of learning his craft. His craft is hard to learn, though, and he’s barely started learning (because there’s so much to learn).

          Experience is experience. You can have the best teachers and read the best manuals, and you’re still not going to get a substitute for real on-the-job training that only comes from days/weeks/months/years of trying, failing, learning, and adjusting.

    • mustang

      Exactly !!!

    • Tom Zig

      Well for one you need to have command of your pitches.

      Another is that you need a changeup and other effective secondary pitches

      Hughes has neither.

    • http://twitter.com/cephster Ross in Jersey

      You still need excellent control to succeed at any velocity. Hughes’ problem has been location as much as it’s been velocity, leaving cutters in the middle of the plate will get crushed even if he was throwing harder. Throwing harder just tilts the odds that a pitcher can get away with a mistake.

      Guys who succeed late in their career after losing velocity (Cone, Maddux, Pedro, etc) all had impeccable command of their pitches.

      • mustang

        BINGO!

        This whole comment needs to be repeated and in bold!

      • mike

        I would take it even further – they still had tremendous speed variations between their fastball and key off-speed pitch, so while control was important, the loss of speed on their fastball was not as big of a deal

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          And they each had other ways of keeping hitters off balance besides just velocity and command, things like varying arm angles or knowing how to set hitters up by pitching backwards, etc.

      • Epy0n

        Garcias command was pretty damn on point.

    • Tank the Frank

      I don’t want Hughes to do this. I want him to be healthy, get his velocity back, and become the power pitcher he’s supposed to be.

    • Ted Nelson

      Hughes’ off speed stuff wasn’t good. He lived on his FB and cutter the past couple of years. Not only did he lose velocity over the offseason, he also lost command of and movement on his FB and basically seemed to lose the cutter altogether.

      If/when he gets his velocity back, though, perhaps this experience can be a learning one for Hughes.

      I would also say that Hughes couldn’t just learn to do this overnight. All indications are that he thought he’d be throwing 93 MPH heat once the season began… I think the original plan was to wait for that to happen rather than become a whole different pitcher… Now it’s all a bit more up in the air from our ignorant fan perspective (i.e. Yankees probably at least have a working theory of what’s wrong and how to fix it… or if it can be fixed…, but as fans we don’t have all the information).

      • http://twitter.com/steveh_MandAura Steve H

        If/when he gets his velocity back, though, perhaps this experience can be a learning one for Hughes.

        Completely agree. Even if he does get his velocity back, there are going to be plenty of days where he doesn’t have it all. If he can find a way to get outs without peak velocity, it goes a long way.

        • Ted Nelson

          Yeah, to improve he’s got to work on his secondary offerings… he was fairly effective with only the FB and cutter really working, but could have been a whole lot better.

  • Mike HC

    With all the quality starts he racked up last year, and now another this year, it is pretty encouraging to know he has the potential to string together some nice outings. Of course, you know some nights when the location is off, it is going to be batting practice.

  • I am not the droids you’re looking for…

    This post made me long for Cone and El Duque.

    That is all.

  • mustang

    ” Fastballs in pitchers’ counts, off-speed stuff in hitters’ counts — overall, a near-random selection of pitches that will keep hitters guessing. That’s how Garcia can succeed while throwing in the mid 80s.”

    Its called PITCHING an art form often lost because people are too busy trying to break radar guns.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      Its called PITCHING an art form often lost because people are too busy trying to break radar guns.

      Pitchers tried to throw hard (and survive off that hard throwing in absence of any form of pitching savvy) even before radar guns existed.

      The art form of pitching is no more or less dead than it was at any point in the past. Young pitchers today generally aren’t savvy not because they’re trying to throw as hard as possible, they’re not savvy because they’re young. (Just like young pitchers in the past, mind you.)

      I think you’re drawing a false conclusion here. JMHO.

      • Chris

        But the good old days! Everything was better back then.

        • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

          Back when men were men, amirite?

          Sincerely,
          J. Edgar Hoover

          • http://twitter.com/cephster Ross in Jersey

            Back when men were men, and Presidents were illegally elected and fronts for socalist causes. Well, crap, I guess not much has changed after all.

            /sarcasm

            • Chris

              Is that you Rose?

            • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

              I have investigators in Hawaii. They cannot believe what they are finding.

              Sincerely,
              Donald J. “Rose” Trump

        • mustang

          “Those Who Don’t Know Their History Are Doomed to Repeat It”

          • Chris

            Those who know a false history are even worse…

            • mustang

              “Only a few have the work ethic to take the next step when they are already good enough to make millions being a good pitcher in MLB. And those are called Hall of Famers”

              Mike HC not me.

  • http://twitter.com/steveh_MandAura Steve H

    Based on the title I figured this post was about some of the praising articles written about Millwood’s peformance yesterday.

    Freddy is going to have to hit his spots and mix his pitches, but there’s no reason he can’t help this team out quite a bit. If he repeats his 2010 I’d be thrilled. He’s going to have some blowups, but if he can go out and give 6 innings/3 runs most of the time, we can live with the blowups.

  • Frank

    The guy knows how to pitch. Sure, he’ll have some bad days, but the key for Garcia is he has an assortment of pitches; however, he must have pinpoint location and movement. I think he could be a pleasant surprise for the Yanks assuming he stays healthy. If Millwood makes it to the big league roster, we’ll probably see him pitch the same way. Mussina did the same thing his last season when he couldn’t break a pane of glass with his FB.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      I trust Mussina’s ability to maintain good location more than Garcia and Millwood, though. Moose was a control artist; Garcia and Millwood have nearly double the career walk rate that Moose did.

      I’m much more skeptical about Millwood’s chances of pitching effectively this year than I am with Garcia’s (or Moose’s back in ’08).

      • http://twitter.com/steveh_MandAura Steve H

        Garcia and Millwood have nearly double the career walk rate that Moose did.

        And that’s with their “good” stuff. With diminished stuff they’re are more likely to nibble.

        • Mike HC

          Which, as we found out with Moose, is the wrong way to go about it. You still need to pitch inside and challenge hitters, even with diminished stuff.

      • JasperJohn

        I recall reading around the media about how Mussina would need to learn how to pitch like Jamie Moyer (right Hank?)? I recall RAB having good articles on the subject too. I did a quick search and found one:
        http://riveraveblues.com/2008/.....west-2478/

        Here we have in April 2008, the start of his 20 win season, us talking about a starting pitcher whose stuff is not as fast as it used to be, just like this post on Garcia.

        I think its an interesting comparison between Mussina and Garcia because we’re not going to be able to truly judge the real results of his pitching with diminished stuff until we see more starts and are deeper into the season. Maybe Garcia WILL have an excellent season, just like Mussina in ’08. Does Garcia’s higher career walk rate really mean that he has inferior control compared to Mussina, and that an ’08-esque season is out of the question? Maybe he wont get 20 wins, but if he gets 12-15 I’d take that. Maybe this is being optimistic, but I recall Mussina spending a season or two frustrating fans until everything came together in 2008. Has Garcia just gone through this learning process in Chicago?

  • Chris

    It’s possible to have sustained success with an 87.5 MPH (or lower) fastball. It’s generally not possible to have sustained success when you only get 3 swings and misses (out of 84 pitches).

    I’m hoping he’ll keep it up, but not too optimistic…

    • DF

      This is an excellent point. You don’t have to throw hard to succeed, necessarily; you do need to miss bats. The best way to miss bats is usually to throw really hard. Still, it doesn’t matter how you miss the bats as long as you are missing them. But Garcia only generated 3 swings and misses, and he will be hard pressed to have continued well-above-average success if his pitching is that hittable.

      All that being said, I think he can be a pretty useful #5 starter.

      • Mike HC

        Well above average success is not what we are looking for though. “Good enough to stay in the rotation” is the more reasonable hope.

        • DF

          Completely agree. I’m more reacting to some posters I’ve seen with seemingly higher hopes for Garcia than that.

  • Tank the Frank

    No he won’t repeat this. But the point in the first place was to steal as many starts like this from Garcia, Colon et al. until better pitching options become available.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside the Elder

      I’ve got my eye on Jon Lester when the still-in-last-place Red Sox have their fire sale in July.

  • mike

    as long as he keeps them in games and can get the rotation 170ish innings out of his spot, this was a masterful pick-up.

    a rotation with 2 Garcia-types as the 4-5’s would go a long way to establishing a contending staff

    • hogsmog

      MASTERSTROKE.

  • http://twitter.com/steveh_MandAura Steve H

    If Garcia were lefty he’d get 4/$54 on the free agent market.

    • Mickey Scheister

      Colon would get 3/32 if he wiped with his left hand.

  • NC Saint

    CC is off to a slow start? He’s doing far better than his career average in ERA, FIP, K/9, and HR/9. I would say he’s doing a terrific job. I know RAB is better than to worry about his record, so what’s the concern here?

  • http://riveraveblues.com/2010/02/2010-preseason-top-30-prospects-21281/#comment-779224 LET SBGL BACK ON BRACKMAN’S DEBUT

    Freddy Garcia is what I as a crappy high school pitcher wish I could be. Command, change of speeds, basically random crap in every count.

    But seriously, big ups to Freddy for an amazing and totally shocking start.

  • Epy0n

    If he had an ok season last year why were so many people completely writing Garcia off before he showed us what he has?

  • Jess

    It’s actually more fun to watch someone like Garcia pitch than a guy with your average 93mph fastball try to get batters out with his stuff. Think Mike Pelfrey.

    Bloggers worry way too much about velocity.