Guess who leads NL pitchers in wins above replacement?

He has 41 strikeouts, eight unintentional walks (thus a 5 to 1 K/BB), and zero home runs allowed in his 30.2 innings pitched. He leads NL starting pitchers in wins above replacement (WAR), according to Fangraphs, tied with Roy Halladay.

He is Matt Garza, 0-3 record and all.
SABR-type stats are showing Garz a lot of love because they give him the benefit of the doubt on the balls put in play against him. I know I've mentioned this before, but to review: roughly 30% of the balls put into play by opposing batters -- grounders, fly balls, and line drives that aren't home runs -- fall in for hits over a typical season. That's just literally how the ball bounces, and it's been shown over years of research. In Garza's case, well over 40% of the balls put into play against him have turned into hits, and so the SABR types consider him unlucky.
Things like strikeouts and walks, the argument goes, have a lot less to do with luck, and as previously stated, Garza has been really good at getting K's while limiting BB's. Garza is 11th in all of baseball in K/BB ratio, and 1st overall in strikeouts per nine innings. Since these are the factors that go into fWAR, it's not surprising that Garza is at the top of the list.
So does that make you feel any better about his 18 runs allowed? For me, it mostly doesn't. But then again it also sort of does. 

When Garza came over to the NL Central from the AL East, people assumed his numbers would benefit from the fact that he would be facing lower quality hitters day in and day out. Fortunately, that has held true; in particular, because he's facing pitchers instead of DHs, that strikeout rate should be up, and of course, it is.

But there's another factor that's impacting Garza's stats: he's left behind the vaunted Ray defense in exchange for these bumbling Cubs. Rob has touched on this previously, and it can't be ignored: over three years in Tampa, Garza had a .270 BABIP; now one month into his Chicago tenure it's up to .414. 
There are some other weird things going on with Garza's batted ball stats; for example, he's apparently converted from a flyball pitcher to a groundball guy all of a sudden. That might/will probably regress back to his old Tampa form, but that's sort of not a big deal the way I see it. The main thing is this: if he can strike out a guy or more per inning and limit himself to one or two walks per start, he'll do fine all season long. 
Ladies and gentlemen, your NL SP fWAR leader, Matt Garza.

Filed under: Matt Garza

Tags: chicago cubs, Matt Garza

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  • Did you catch this article, AJ? http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/an-entirely-different-matt-garza/
    It goes a long way towards explaining the strange changes in Garza's statistical profile.

  • In reply to sep484:

    I did catch it. I understand that his pitch mix is different, but exchanging fastballs for sliders doesn't automatically improve one's K-rate, although it might explain the FB/GB thing. My main point is, he was supposed to get better moving from ALe to NLc, and there's at least one reason why he is (P < DH) and one reason why he isn't (Cub D < Ray D). But thank you for linking. For the record I am an RSS subscriber to Fangraphs content. =)

  • I wrote about Garza's puzzling year a week or two ago. The one thing your missing is Matt Garza's line drive rate is way up. It's still at about 28%, up from around 19% the year before -- but earlier in the season when he was giving up all those hits it was at 40%. You give up line drives and your BABIP is going to be higher. Part of his BABIP was luck and part of it was Garza's location. You leave a pitch in the fat part of the plate and major leaguers are going to make solid contact. I'm a firm believer that BABIP cannot solely be explained by luck, sometimes you make your own luck, good or bad.

  • In reply to walrus:

    Does high LD% necessarily imply that Garza is serving up pitches at a high or above-average rate? Or could it again come back to luck, where hitters just happen to be squaring him up more than usual, and this is how the randomness is expressed? If Garza is serving it up so much, why hasn't anyone taken him yard? Not counting Braun and Fielder he's allowed one double and two triples so far, although B+F were all over him.

    Last thing: CC Sabathia leads the league in LD% and his BABIP is .305.

  • In reply to ajwalsh08:

    Forgot I posted this :) Didn't say there was no luck involved at all...just easier to have bad luck (or maybe more accurately, it compounds that bad luck) when you're giving up line drives at a high rate. Garza wasn't just giving up bloop singles and seeing eye-grounders during his bad run. What's worse, he seemed to give them all up in bunches. You can lose your location in spurts, get hit hard for an inning and sometimes that's enough to lose the game.

  • In reply to walrus:

    I hear ya. I guess the thing I'd nitpick about is your suggestion that Garza was "giving up" the line drives.

    I think what you're saying is: Garza's LD% allowed was high, therefore he must have been missing his spots, which pushed his BABIP up. I would argue that one cannot assume high LD% necessarily implies a pitcher is missing his spots. This is a game of inches; the difference between a home run and a harmless fly out is extremely small. The pitch might've gone right where Garza wanted it, but if the batter makes just the right swing...

    The other things I'd point to that suggest Garza wasn't necessarily missing his spots are his strikeout and walk rates, which were super high and super low respectively.

    Or maybe he was missing spots! I have no idea. The point is, his BABIP is now down to .382. Hooray for that!

  • Here's the link to that piece I wrote earlier on Garza...

    http://www.chicagonow.com/blogs/cubs-den/2011/04/hittable-or-unhittable-garza-manages-to-be-a-little-of-both.html

  • In reply to walrus:

    Sweet, thanks for making it easy. Reading now.

  • All I know is, the one game I saw in person, no less than 6 of the balls hit by Brewers should have been caught and/or stopped by Cub fielders. Perhaps that game contributes to the gawd awful BABIP, but with this bunch of tree-legged fielders, it isn't "luck" that is causing these balls to fall safely

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