Freddy’s homers: long-term problem or just a blip?

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Lining up Sabathia
(Frank Franklin II/AP)

For the first few months of the season it was the one thing that kept Freddy Garcia’s head above water. As summer rolled in, it allowed him to stand behind CC Sabathia as the team’s No. 2 pitcher. But after going 10 straight starts without allowing a home run, Garcia has allowed five in his last three, including four in his last two, which amounts to 7.2 IP. It leaves the Yankees facing a big question heading into the postseason: can Freddy still step up and take the ball in Game 2?

There are two possible scenarios at play here. The first one, popular with the statistics-oriented crowd, is that Garcia is merely experiencing a correction. It’s not normal for a pitcher to go 10 starts without allowing a homer, and so Garcia is just coming back down to earth. His xFIP has suggested such a regression, and the past three games represent just that. The second one is that he found something in his repertoire that allowed him to suppress home runs earlier in the season. His finger injury, and perhaps some dulling of his command due to a long layoff, is reason for his recent failures.

During his homerless streak, Garcia leaned heavily on his changeup. He threw it 30 percent of the time, more than any other pitch in his arsenal. After that he threw the four-seamer and the slider with frequency; in total he threw those three pitches a hair more than 85 percent of the time. The remaining 15 percent was divided almost evenly among the cutter, splitter, and two-seamer. This might seem odd, since the splitter has been, anecdotally, Garcia’s most effective pitch this season. Yet he doesn’t deploy it with frequency. Instead he picks his spots, and it worked. He generated swings on 11.2 percent of his 259 splitters during the streak.

In his last three starts Garcia has started relying on the splitter much more frequently. He has thrown it 39 times out of 250 total pitches, or 15.6 percent. That’s essentially triple the rate at which he threw it during his streak. At the same time he’s backed off the changeup significantly, throwing it only 45 times, or 18 percent. The slider has gained primacy in Garcia’s repertoire; he has thrown it 31.2 percent of the time since coming off the DL. Might the change of pitch selection be reason for Garcia’s failures?

In his start against Baltimore, the one when he allowed two homers and seven runs in 2.2 innings, Garcia leaned on the slider. He threw it 16 times in his 56 pitches, or 28.6 percent. The Orioles hitters demolished it, though — the Brooks Baseball data has the linear weights score on the slider at 3.12, which is simply horrible (negative scores are better). He also got beat up with the fastball, which is unsurprising. In that game he threw the splitter just four time,s and with generally good results: three strikes, one swinging, and a negative linear weights score. He apparently used that performance to justify heavier usage of his splitter yesterday.

That, of course, did not work either. Garcia threw 26 splitters out of 106 pitches, or 24.5 percent. His linear weights score: 2.04. His slider, however, was more effective, generating three swings and misses on 33 pitches and resulting in a -1.04 linear weights score. The changeup also came back into play, accounting for 27 of those 106 pitches and generating five swings and misses. It wasn’t overly effective, just barely on the linear weights scale, but it certainly got the job done moreso than it did against the Orioles. As expected, the results were quite better. But they weren’t necessarily good.

The change in repertoire, then, lends credence to both ends of the argument. While it’s certainly possible that Garcia is just experiencing a correction following his homerless streak, it’s also possible that a change in pitch selection, and a lack of sharpness in command, has led him down a homer-prone path. There’s no real way to tell, of course, which makes the issue that much more frustrating. But it’s good to know that there are tangible changes at play. If everything had been the same as before, the situation might appear a bit more dire.

This leaves some room for optimism. If Garcia gets sharper with each outing, he might be in ideal shape come playoff time. When he’s keeping hitters off-balance with his slider and changeup, while working the splitter into opportune spots, he’s shown that he’s effective. But he hasn’t done that in his last few games. His next few starts, then, will be of great importance in determining the postseason rotation. The No. 2 spot is, in all likelihood, his to lose. A strong finish could set the Yankees up well for a playoff run.

Series Preview: Seattle Mariners
Lining up Sabathia
  • Mike R

    I honestly didn’t think Freddy would have ever pitched this good. In my opinion I would have never penciled Freddy into the #2 spot in October. I’d have far more faith in Colon and Nova, and two be honest I’d pitch Phil before Freddy. You can’t ignore how good of a season Freddy had. Although I don’t have numbers I feel as if playoff teams would be able to hit Freddy. Either way he went above and beyond kudos to Freddy Sez’

    • MattG

      I could simultaneously rip you or support you. It depends on with which side of my face I type.

      But both sides of my face agree I would rather see Garcia, at this moment, over Hughes. Three starts left for each, though.

    • UncleArgyle

      I agree. Garcia has been a revelation this year, but he’s still my #4 because he’s a soft tosser. I’d much rather take my chances with Colon and Nova throwing gas in the cold of October than Freddy trying to outsmart a playoff lineup.

      • Foghorn Leghorn

        Furbush is a soft tosser

      • Ted Nelson

        Let’s not act like MLB hitters are intimidate by a low-90s FB. Command and movement are both more important than velocity. Even with ace-level “power-pitchers” what sets them apart is not their velocity, it’s their command and stuff. Felix Hernandez doesn’t throw his FB any harder on average in 2011 than AJ did in 2011.

        You are welcome to your opinion about Colon vs. Nova vs. Garcia… but try a different argument. Let’s not act like Colon or Nova is Aroldis Chapman who is going to smoke heat by guys. They are going to have to outsmart playoff line-ups with the location and movement of their pitches as well.

        • Ted Nelson

          *Felix Hernandez doesn’t throw his FB any harder on average in 2011 than AJ did in 2010.

        • UncleArgyle

          So your saying that Power pitchers don’t do better in the playoffs? Really? I don’t have time to go dig up the stats on this, but I’m pretty sure your very very wrong. Of course if you don’t make your pitches it wont matter, but having a good fastball IS important in post season play.

          • Ted Nelson

            A. I am saying that power pitchers don’t just do well because of “power.” AJ is a power pitcher and so is Felix. AJ’s average FB velocity in 2010 was the same as Felix’s in 2011. Would you agree that AJ is as good a pitcher as Felix? You are just as comfortable with AJ in the playoff rotation for the Yankees as Felix Hernandez?

            B. You have no proof of anything. Your argument is “because I say so.” Get real. I can literally list pitchers with post-season success who threw mid-to-high 80s… and your response is simply ” I don’t have time to go dig up the stats on this… having a good fastball IS important in post season play.”

            • uncleargyle

              Huh? What does AJ Burnett have to do w starting colon before garcia? I wouldnt put AJ on the post season roster because he sucks. Let’s stop bringing up random pitchers to support whatever it is ur arguing. This is about who start more games colon, nova, garcia. Ill start colon and nova

            • UncleArgyle

              wow you can list pitchers with post season success who threw in the mid to high 90s. pretty impressive given that they been playing baseball for over 100 hundred years. And somehow that means Freddie Garcia should get more starts over Colon and Nova. Got ya. Seriously, I need to “Prove” that a 95 mph fast is better than an 87 mph fastball all things being equal? Ted your taking what i posted and reading massive amounts of crap into it. I never said velocity is more important than movement, or control, or whatever else you’d like to throw in there to create this meme you’re pitching. If you think garcia is the #2 over colon and nova fine. just support that with something beyond “Greg Maddux didn’t throw hard”

          • Mickey Mantle’s Outstanding Experience

            Power pitchers perform better in the playoffs because they are, collectively, better pitchers, not because of some extra advantage they get in the playoffs. In a comparison of two pitchers, it doesn’t matter what their styles are, it just matters which one is better.

    • nsalem

      Last 3 starts against Texas excellent including 2 hits in 6 innings in his last start. Last 2 starts (in 2010)
      against the Angels besides yesterday he gave up 5 and 6 hits with 1 ER in 12 innings. Last start aganst the Yankees in 2010 1 run in seven innings. The Tigers have it him hard and he has had two good starts and a couple of bad ones vs the Red Sox over the last two years. What makes you think Freddy would pitch poorly in the playoffs besides all the nonsense that people write saying that he can’t pitch against good hitting teams? People can write this stuff till the cows come home, but it’s not true.

      • UncleArgyle

        What makes you think Freddy would pitch poorly in the playoffs (?)

        Garcia’s fastball tops out at 87mph.

        In October I prefer someone throwing gas. Pitching Freddy as the # 4 hopefully keeps him from being over exposed. I can buy into Freddy pitching his ass off for 6 innings. But its a little harder for me to buy him shutting down a playoff lineup, and THEN shutting down that same lineup again 5 days later.

        • nsalem

          Whitey Ford, Tommy John and Orel Herheiser among many others were not hard throwers and managed to pitch quite well in the playoffs. It’s also quite difficult for anybody to shut a good offensive team twice in 5 days. I think using velocity as your only criteria is short sighted.

          • jsbrendog

            greg maddux

            • CMP

              Maddux has a career WAR of over 120.

              That’s pretty amazing considering he only averaged 6 K’s/9.

          • UncleArgyle

            So Freddy Garcia is in the same class as Whity Ford, Tommy John, and Orel Herheiser? And this is a serious point you’re making? I like Freddy Garcia too, but seriously, lets try and not get carried away here.

            • Ted Nelson

              You are not reading what people are writing. The point is not that Freddy is a HOF pitcher. It’s that the relationship between velocity and effectiveness is not nearly as clear-cut as you make it out to be.

              Freddy is not Maddux… but Colon and Nova are not exactly Clemens either… so your point falls apart there.

        • Ted Nelson

          His FB *averages* 87. From 2002 on Maddux’s FB never averaged over 86 MPH… Mussina averaged high 80s. Pedro. Glavine. Why are you so obsessed with velo?

          You think Colon and Nova aren’t at risk of being over-exposed, and are locks to shut-down a team two out of two starts?

          • JobaWockeeZ

            Because obviously Freddy Garcia is on par with Hall of Fame pitchers like Moose or Maddux…

            • Ted Nelson

              Because obviously you read and comprehended my comment.

              Where did I say Garcia is a HOF pitcher???????? That was not my point. My point, like nsalem’s is that velocity and effectiveness do not go hand and hand.

              • UncleArgyle

                Yes, velocity and effectiveness don’t go hand in hand. If your Greg Frickin’ Maddux you don’t need to throw 95 to win. Just like if your Justin Verlander you can miss your spot and still get a good result because you throw 98. But Freddy Garcia is not Greg Maddux. Dude has zero margin for error because everything is throws is soft, so if he misses a spot, the pitch is probably getting crushed. I like Freddy Garcia, but for Christ sakes, the guys does it with mirrors and that should be pretty obvious.

                • Ted Nelson

                  Calm down.

                  There are several logical contradictions in your points.

                  How is Maddux changing speeds, locating his pitches, mixing his pitches, and getting movement on his pitches not “mirrors” if that’s what you call Freddy’s stuff?

                  No one thinks Garcia is a Cy Young candidate… but guess what? Neither are Colon, Nova, Hughes, or Burnett.

                  I don’t know what the hell your point is… People literally disprove points you make, and you still stick with them.

                  • UncleArgyle

                    How did you arrive at my point being “velocity equals effectiveness”? Seriously, how did you think that was my argument. All I said, if you read my comments, was that I’d rather go with someone with a good fastball than someone with a shit fastball. Then we have stuff about Greg Maddux and this non-sense. Randy Johnson was unhittable in the post season and he threw in the mid to high 90’s. Whats the fucking point. The Yankees don’t have Randy Johnson or Greg Maddux. They have a choice of Garcia, Colon, and Nova. I’d start Colon and Nova before Garcia because they throw harder. And I don’t think saying “But Greg Maddux didn’t throw hard, and he was good” is all that germaine to that conversation.

                • Ted Nelson

                  The point people are making is that the point about velocity and effectiveness doesn’t just work when contrasting extremes like Maddux and Verlander. It also holds for less pitchers. You keep ignoring this, or perhaps don’t understand it.

                  • Ted Nelson

                    Guys like Maddux are extreme examples to show that you can be VERY successful with a mid-to-high 80s FB. That doesn’t mean there aren’t lesser examples of soft-tossers who have been just as successful and more successful than guys who threw 95.

            • NJ_Andy

              Not the point. Velo is not a guarantee of success.

              I seriously can’t believe this is in discussion. Isn’t AJ Burnett on our team?

            • nsalem

              of course he isn’t, but it’s an irrelevant comment (shocking coming from you).

  • Alibaba

    I hope that the coaches read RAB and will work with him regarding his pitch selection, although this is probably only a part of the issues.

  • Foghorn Leghorn

    Since hitting a lot of home runs is a bad thing for a team I believe this to be a very good pitching strategy for Schvetty Freddy.

  • JobaWockeeZ

    It’s Colon’s spot to lose for the number two. Every advanced stat has Colon being the better pitcher. Garcia’s barely above league average, not an ideal number two.

    • Joe Pawlikowski

      Hey, look, JobaWockeeZ looked some stuff up on FanGraphs. Conversation over.

      • JobaWockeeZ

        Ouch. ;_;

      • Ted Nelson


      • Bob Stone

        First laugh I had in this thread – Thanks Joe!

  • Mike HC

    “There are two possible scenarios at play here. The first one, popular with the statistics-oriented crowd, is that Garcia is merely experiencing a correction. It’s not normal for a pitcher to go 10 starts without allowing a homer, and so Garcia is just coming back down to earth. His xFIP has suggested such a regression, and the past three games represent just that. The second one is that he found something in his repertoire that allowed him to suppress home runs earlier in the season. His finger injury, and perhaps some dulling of his command due to a long layoff, is reason for his recent failures.”


    I don’t necessarily see these are competing theories, but the same one. It was not likely Garcia was going to be able to keep up the results he had because in the vast majority of cases, pitchers with similar peripherals were not able to consistently achieve those results. Whether that has to do with pure luck, abnormal ineffectiveness of the hitters, or the improbability of consistently pitching with such pinpoint control and/or consistently calling the perfect pitch, is really kind of all one in the same.

    • Ted Nelson

      Yeah, I pretty much agree. The regression argument can be a competing theory and boil down to luck at times: throwing the same pitches and them getting hit better. However, it can also be due to the underlining concerns about performance: throwing different/worse pitches and getting hit better.

      In either case I don’t think it’s a necessarily irreversible trend. His luck can even out and/or he can get back on top of his stuff… of course the trend may also continue whatever its cause(s).

      • Mike HC

        If Garcia’s stuff/command got noticeably worse, you would expect his xFIP to get worse regardless of the results. Not sure if that is happening or not. If his stuff is basically just as effective but he is getting hit harder, you would expect his xFIP to stay the same, but the results getting worse.

  • Paul Proteus

    Could be just a blip. He need Russell Martin back. Jesus let one get by him that cost Freddy a run. He’s got a couple more starts to show he can be the #4. It’s between him, Hughes, and AJ as Colon has sealed up a playoff rotation spot.