There are six starting pitchers who, in the first month of the season, posted a groundball rate of a little more than 60 percent, ranging from Derek Lowe (60.5%) to Tim Hudson (63.3%). None of the other names would surprise you either – Felix Hernandez, Ricky Romero, Joel Pineiro, and Jorge de la Rosa are all well known as extreme groundball pitchers, and their sinkers are working well to begin the 2010 season.
However, none of them are even close to leading the league in groundball rate. St. Louis rookie Jaime Garcia is lapping the field, with a ridiculous 71.2% groundball rate through his first four starts. The gap between Garcia and Hudson is as large as the gap between Hudson and C.J. Wilson, who ranks 15th on the list.
It shouldn’t be surprising that a Cardinal pitcher is leading the league in inducing grounders, given that we’ve recently talked about Dave Duncan’s magic touch. However, Garcia’s not your standard pound-the-zone-with-a-sinker guy, as he has four pitches that he mixes in – a fastball, a slider, a curve, and a change. In getting his 14 groundball outs last night, he threw just under 60 percent fastballs, for instance.
Perhaps most impressively, he’s not just running up his totals by dominating left-handers. He’s faced 18 LHBs this year compared to 85 RHBs, as opposing managers have been stacking the deck against him and running out almost entirely right-handed line-ups. It hasn’t mattered, as they’re hitting the ball on the ground against him at a 68 percent clip. Of course, that’s better than the left-handers, who have hit the ball on the ground 90 percent of the time.
You don’t need a degree in regression to know that Garcia won’t finish the year with a 1.04 ERA, but given how he’s attacked hitters so far, we may have a new leader in the clubhouse for National League Rookie of the Year. Even in just 26 innings of work, he’s shown that he’s got the stuff to sustain quality performances, and he’s got the added benefit of having Dave Duncan around.
He’ll have to prove he can stay healthy for the long haul, but in terms of whether he’s good enough to get major league hitters out, Garcia is answering that question very quickly. This kid is for real.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.