Matt Garza’s Crazy Start

When Matt Garza was acquired by the Chicago Cubs this off-season, he was expected to provide stability to a rotation with some question marks. Garza’s first start with the Cubs was anything but stable, as he likely posted one of the strangest pitching lines we will see this season. Over 7 innings, Garza managed to post 12 strikeouts while allowing 12 hits and no walks. His performance in the game actually led to Garza posting a FIP of -0.48. (Since we are dealing with really small samples here, it’s important to note that this isn’t terribly uncommon early in the season. Still, it’s kind of cool to have a negative FIP, right?) The line is so unique, however, because it’s tough to understand how one pitcher can be so hittable/un-hittable in the same game. Let’s take a closer look at how this could have happened?

As Albert Lyu reminded us in January, Matt Garza has become an extreme fly ball pitcher in recent years. While that type of approach will generally lead to fewer hits and a depressed BABIP, it also leaves pitchers susceptible to home runs. On Sunday, however, you would have sworn there was a different pitcher on the mound.

According to his FanGraphs Game Log; Garza gave up four fly balls, nine ground balls and seven line drives in his start. While this is typically an unusual stat line for Garza, it goes a long way in explaining his performance. The 12 hits Garza allowed can be directly attributed to the amount of grounders and line drives he gave up. Since we expect pitchers with higher GB% to post higher a higher BABIP, and we expect line drives to be hit really freakin hard, it’s easy to see why Garza would give up so many hits in this particular start. That doesn’t necessarily explain why Garza was so hittable, though.

Again, Garza’s Game Log helps shed some light on this situation. Of the 106 pitches Garza threw on Sunday, 80 of them were strikes. This approach affected Garza in two very different ways. Since he pounded the strike zone early and often, he was able to get ahead of hitters and rack up strikeouts at a high frequency. However, that same approach also led to more pitches in the strike zone for the Pirates (obviously), which meant more hittable pitches. Because Garza was pounding the zone, opposing hitters could be aggressive at the plate knowing he was going to throw a strike.

While it doesn’t fully explain the nuances behind Garza’s crazy pitching line, his Game Log at least provides some insight into how he arrived at the final result. We can’t come to conclusions about every aspect of his start (like how he was able to induce so many ground balls), but we spot a correlation between his approach and his stat line. Based on his career numbers, however, we shouldn’t expect Garza to post a similar line any time soon. This is one of those starts where you just sit back and marvel at the absurdity of the final line. You’re not going to see this one very often.





Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

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Ellis
Guest
Ellis

Can someone explain how FIP can be negative? I guess I misunderstand that stat – I would’ve thought 0.00 is the minimum. Does giving up a ton of hits somehow drive your FIP down?

Jack Weiland
Guest
Jack Weiland

Part of the equation is subtracting 3.25 or something like that. I’m too lazy to look it up. There’s a constant in there that you always subtract.

Ellis
Guest
Ellis

So then would any stat with a ton of Ks and no BBs have a negative FIP?

Bryz
Guest

@ Ellis:

For Garza, his FIP would look like this:

(((13 x 0 home runs) + (3 x 0 walks) – (2 x 12 strikeouts)) / 7 innings) + ~3.0 = -0.48

As the season progresses, it will be in the positives for good.

Barkey Walker
Guest
Barkey Walker

You are right, a good fielding independent statistic would have a minimum of zero.

The fact that it can be negative is an argument for being wary of FIP. Simply put, it is a little hacked together in the way all advanced saber stats are a little hacked together.

Ks enter negatively, homers and walks enter positively. Intentional walks do not count, I guess lacking confidence doesn’t count against you.

BTW, it is specious to say that more grounders become hits. 25% of grounders and 25% of fly balls become hits. Its just that FG defines a homer as not a hit. Go figure.

matt w
Guest
matt w

it is specious to say that more grounders become hits.

I don’t think Chris said that — he said that grounders have a higher BABIP, which is true. And of course, if Garza had given up a home run, that would’ve been factored into his FIP for the game.

If you like, you can think of the question as “How did Garza give up 12 singles while striking out 12 and walking none?”; ground balls are certainly more likely to produce singles.

James Gentile
Member
Member

haha, this guy is so bitter about everything.

Steve Marino
Guest

“You are right, a good fielding independent statistic would have a minimum of zero.”

You really can’t infer anything with regard to FIP (or any metric) from a single start, similarly you can’t infer anything about the quality of any metric which gets its results from a single start. If Matt Garza ends up with a negative FIP at the end of the season, or heck even by the All Star Break, then you may have a valid point.