Freddy’s men on base problem

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Last year it felt as though Freddy Garcia possessed a remarkable ability to pitch his way out of a jam. When the going got tough, Freddy got going, amping up his arsenal and cutting down hitters when the situations mattered the most. It was through his performances with runners on base, with runners in scoring position, and in high-leverage situations that allowed him to keep his ERA shiny — and keep the Yanks out of trouble.

Here’s a quick breakdown of how Freddy fared in various situations.

Bases Empty 13.7% 6.7% 1.04 .310
Men on Base 17.5% 6%* 0.92 .266
RISP 18%  7.2%* 0.64 .205
High Leverage 12.5% 4.2% 0.00 .100

*Unintentional walk rate

While the above data shows us why Garcia was able to maintain a 3.62 ERA against a 4.12 FIP and 4.36 xFIP, it also screams something to the SABR-influenced crowd: regression. Garcia’s performances when runs were at stake might have made his 2011 numbers look nice, but surely that’s not sustainable. Right? When we’re trying to project a pitcher’s numbers we should be looking for skills and not fluke performances. And so the Yankees’ decision to re-sign Garcia might appear a foolish one. How could they be so fooled by these fluky numbers?

Garcia’s situation presents one reason why you see less statistic-heavy work on RAB than you might have in the past. That is to say, there are many flaws in the SABR doctrine. A SABR-inclined analyst might come to the above conclusion, that Freddy got so incredibly lucky in specific situations last year that it simply could not last. Yet such analysis would be woefully incomplete without a reference point. Might it be that Garcia has excelled in these situations throughout his career? Turns out, that is exactly the case. Here are the same numbers, taken from Garcia’s 14-year career.

Bases Empty 17.2% 6.4% 1.36 .290
Men on Base 16.1% 6.3%* 0.96 .284
RISP 17.6% 7.7%* 0.71 .265
High Leverage 19.6% 5.6% 0.94 .248

*Unintentional walk rate

Despite Garcia being a completely different pitcher today than he was in 2001, he still follows these trends. During the course of his entire career, comprising 8,861 batters faced, he has shown a knack for working out of jams. In fact, one of the only seasons in which he did not display these trends, 2010, was his first full season after undergoing labrum and rotator cuff surgeries. Once he familiarized himself with his new limitations, he went right back to his old trends. (That’s my narrative, and I’m sticking to it.)

This year Garcia is demonstrating similar, though not altogether the same, trends. He’s striking out more hitters with men on base than he is with the bases empty. He’s walking fewer. Both of his two home runs allowed have come with the bases empty. The killer, however, is BABIP. He’s allowed a .524 BABIP with men on base, and .471 with men in scoring position. He has a mere 47.2 percent strand rate. Absolutely nothing is going Freddy’s way this season.

While we should expect Freddy’s BABIP numbers to fall, it’s not because he’s merely getting unlucky. In his three starts Garcia has displayed a marked lack of command. It’s not as bad as his debut, in which he let loose five wild pitches. But his command is nowhere near the level it was last year. For Garcia, 35, that should be something he finds soon enough. And when he does, his performances will significantly improve. As long as nothing is wrong physically, it should just be a matter of patience.

Chances are Garcia has already pitched himself out of the rotation with these first three starts. Hell, he might have been out of a spot since the day Andy Pettitte announced his comeback. Until then, though, the Yankees can display some patience with Garcia. Unless something physical is hampering his command, he should be able to trot out there every five days and turn in quality performances, as he did in 2011.

Jeter, A-Rod, and Sabathia lead Yankees to win over Rangers
An appreciation of Jeter's return to MVP form
  • Bonnie Parker

    Freddy’s as good as gone. He will be skipped and his only chance of starting again is if Hughes does so awful tomorrow that we have no other choice. We’re down to 2 reliable starters, one inconsistent starter, and two awful ones. Andy can’t get here soon enough.

  • beantownbosoxh8er

    remind me why they took sweaty Freddy over Bart again?

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Take a few seconds and think back. I think you’ll remember why.

  • beantownbosoxh8er

    was it $$? or health? I am truly questioning this.

  • Brandon W

    The starting pitching in general has made Freddy look worse too. If the Yankees were winning all the games from their other starters and Freddy had a couple rough games then it would be easier to live with. Since Hughes has looked bad, Kuroda has gotten roughed up, and CC has been a little off to start the season then we feel the need to jump on someone, and Freddy has been the weakest link.

    As to the SABR stuff, I think a lot of breakdown seems to occur between predictive and descriptive stats. Sometimes people focus more on what will happen than what happened, and vice versa. Freddy SHOULD be better, and maybe WILL be better, but it is still a fact that he has pitched poorly. People also like to throw around “luck” like a buzzword, as if Freddy’s 85mph meatballs that he can’t control so far this season have been “bad luck” and should induce a career-norm BABIP (I’m using that more as a metaphor, I haven’t seen many people specifically saying that about Freddy, but it happens with other players in general).

  • viridiana

    One of the best posts I’ve read on RAB.

  • ADam

    Freddy probably gets a shot against Baltimore or KC, no way they let him face the Tigers. I agree with Bonnie though.. Freddy looks DONE…. Lets hope that Hughes and Kuroda right their ships and really solidify the rotation with the addition of Andy in May

  • the Other Steve S.

    He looks about as done as Jeter did 2 years ago.

  • Chip Off The Ol Knoblauch

    Despite how Freddy’s season has gone so far, I think I’d still take him over Bartolo for the length of a season. Colon’s looked great to start but the elbow worries me, ramping up his innings last year after not pitching for a while, and dude’s not exactly the picture of being in good shape. Freddy’s gotten by on his stuff for a while now.

    Freddy vs Andy though? Hard not to take the Stare over the Sweat.

  • Monterowasdinero

    I will take the minority view and give Freddy a few more chances to right the ship. He needs to throw his 86 mph fb a bit more. It looks 96 to the hitter compared to all the 68-81 mph stuff he throws. They are just sitting on that junk. Freddy has been a very serviceable pitcher since 1999. Most wins in the AL except for…

    Andy P.!!

  • Fin

    If he gets 2 more starts and continues to be as bad as he has been, it will be interesting to see what they do with Freddy when Andy is ready. Do they send Phelps to AAA and make Freddy the long man or do they release him? I’m guessing they send Phelps to AAA. This would allow Freddy a chance to work out his issues in a marginal role. It would also allow Phelps to stay stretched out and get the ball every 5th day. This would allow Phelps the insurance for Hughes if he continues his struggles or as a replacement for injuries. There is also the issue of the 5m the Yankees owe Freddy. It would be hard to watch him get it togather for the Redsox while the Yankees are paying him.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Seems like the most prudent course to me.

    • RetroRob

      Little reason to release him based on his bad start. It’s good to have pitching depth, and the Yankees do have plenty of options on Phelps, so he will probably bounce around this year.

      Another possibility is they try to get Rapada through waivers and keep Phelps and Sweaty, yet I don’t see that happening. Girardi likes having that second lefty.

  • JohnC

    Lincecum looks done too. Do the Giants dump him?

    • Fin

      There is a bit of a difference between a 28yr old ace strugling out of the gate than a 36yr old junk baller. I didnt think Freddy would be anywhere near as good this year as last year, but I didnt think he would be this bad, and I agree with the article, that given time he would be an effective 5th starter. However, he would have to be significantly better than Hughes to get that spot and he hasnt been. He probably gets the long man role and if he pitches well there would get his chance at the rotation again this year.

      • thenamestsam

        Obviously there is a lot of difference and I’m not really endorsing the comparison, but I think it’s worth pointing out that Lincecum really hasn’t performed as an ace since 2009. Last 2 years he’s been a 4-5 WAR pitcher. Still pretty great obviously, but not approaching the guy he once was. He’s still relatively young and might get it back on track, but I wouldn’t bet much on it. Combined with his slow start this year I think there are plenty of good reasons to be worried about him.

        • http://twitter/TheRealJeromeS Jerome S.

          Lincecum had a 2.74 ERA last year, he’s as good as ever. He’ll revert to being Lincecum in his next few starts.

  • RetroRob

    Garcia has not had his splitter in his three starts so far. An important pitch for him I suppose it’s possible it may never return, or maybe it’s just three starts.

  • roadrider

    Forget the ability to get out of jams – how about not getting into them in the first place? And when you’re giving up one extra base hit after another or throwing 5 wild pitches and even the pitches that aren’t scorched look like beach balls, well it’s time to start thinking about a new career.

    Forget about Garcia’s command. Command of what? The stuff is just not there. Last year was part mirage and part last gasp. Why are people so anxious to dump Hughes who is 10 years younger and has actually pitched better (although not as good as he needs to) than Garcia has (not that Freddie has set the bat all that high) while finding rationales for keeping a guy who has a one-year history with the team and probably no future with them or any other team?

    Stay away from the brown acid folks – it’s giving you a bad trip.

  • RetroRob

    Even if we accept that Garcia was a bit lucky in 2011, that doesn’t mean it was wrong for the Yankees to sign him again. Okay, so he won’t have an ERA or 3.60, but if he pitched to his FIP he’d have an ERA of 4.10. Anything in that range is more than fine for a back-of-the-rotation starter on a team that scores 5.5 runs a game. Sabermetrics isn’t the problem. It’s that many fans, and at times even analysts, do not properly interpret the data. The SABR crowd might say that Garcia’s success in 2011 was fluky, yet further analysis will show exactly what Joe identified. Garcia has always done better in high-leverage situations. Sabermetics should help provide the answer if used properly.

    Regression was to be expected, yet what we’re seeing in the early going is not regression. His command is just not there. He threw four wild pitches in all of 2011, and this year he throws five in one game. His out pitch, the splitter, has been MIA in the early going. Odds are it will return (command), but it probably won’t happen as a member of the Yankees rotation.

    To borrow one of Michael Kay’s expressions, Freddy Garcia is like the girl with the curl. When he’s good, he’s very good, but when he’s bad…

  • Rod

    Unrelated to freddy but I am just perplexed at some of the swings NL batters take. Watched some highlights on kyle lohse and our maligned old bud, aj, damn some of those hitters seem totally incapable of adjusting between at bats.
    Aj could actually be really good away from the spotlight.