What Can Braves Fans Expect from Jaime Garcia

When the Atlanta Braves acquired veteran pitchers Bartolo Colon and R.A. Dickey, their intention seemed clear: They were stocking up on reliable innings-eaters without high expectations on short-term contracts, providing the Braves’ pitching prospects a little more time in the minors. That makes their trade for left-handed veteran Jaime García seem puzzling, since García, who has a long history of injuries, is not particularly reliable, but has high-quality potential. The 30-year-old first reached the majors in 2008, but elbow and shoulder injuries, along with thoracic outlet syndrome, have limited him to an average of 126 innings per season since 2010 (he missed all of 2009 recovering from Tommy John surgery). On the other hand, he has occasionally recorded impressive numbers. He was third in Rookie of the Year voting in 2010, and in 2015 (albeit in just 129 ⅔ innings) he put up a 2.43 ERA (161 ERA+) with a 1.049 WHIP. In 2016, García was healthy enough to reach 171 ⅔ innings pitched, but had a 4.67 ERA (88 ERA+) and a 1.375 WHIP.

What he throws. García throws a four-seam fastball (“FF”), slider (“SL”), changeup (“CH”), and an occasional curve (“CU”), but he is best known for his sinker (here called a two-seam fastball, “FT”), which has much more horizontal movement and much less vertical “rise” than his four-seamer. None of his pitches are particularly fast. His fastballs average 91.3 and 91.1 mph for the four- and two-seam versions respectively, and his curve is just 71.1 mph:

Interestingly, between 2015 and 2016 García took several miles per hour off his slider, and increased its horizontal and vertical movement significantly. (In the charts below, the size of each dot is proportional to the numbers of each pitch thrown; García only pitched for 43 ⅔ innings in 2014.)

Pitch usage and trends. García changes his repertoire dramatically depending on the situation. Left-handed batters see very few changeups, but many sliders and more two-seam fastballs; right-handed batters see far more changeups and fewer sliders. When ahead in the count, he uses his slider aggressively, but almost abandons it when behind. His curve is rarely used, and only early in the count; it makes up 5% of 0-0 count pitches, 4.1% of 0-1, but in the 779 times he went three or more pitches into an at-bat, García threw only one curve (in a 1-2 count). Other pitches show equally dramatic changes in different counts: His slider only accounts for 5.2% of 0-0 counts, but 65.3% of 0-2 counts:

Looking at repertoire and velocity over the course of the 2016 season, it’s hard to see any trends – García’s pitch usage seems to change significantly from game to game, with his curve making sporadic appearances and his four- and two-seam fastballs flipping back and forth in frequency. His fastball velocity remained constant throughout the year, but his slider velocity slowly dropped, especially in the last half-dozen games of the year, when his slider and changeup had distinctly different speeds. (In those last six games, García had a 6.38 ERA and a 1.746 WHIP, so if that was an intentional strategy, it didn’t seem to work out very well.)

Pitch value. Several of García’s pitches show significant platoon splits. His sinker (“FT”) is much more effective against left-handed batters than righties; his slider is the opposite, even though he throws more sliders to LHB than righties. His rare curve was very effective in terms of total bases per 100 pitches, but was very poor in terms of throwing strikes, with a very high rate of balls per 100 pitches. Aside from the curve, García was generally about average at throwing strikes; he ended 2016 with 3.0 BB/9, which is marginally better than the MLB average of 3.1:

García is one of the most extreme ground ball pitches in baseball, ranking second to Marcus Stroman in ground ball percentage in 2016. However, even that represents a step backward for García; his sinker yielded 59.3% ground balls in 2016, compared to 63.6% in 2015.

Pitch location. Most of García’s pitches target the lower third of the strike zone, with his four-seam fastball to right-handed batters closer to the middle third. His slider frequently drops out of the bottom of the zone, especially to left-handed batters, although García clearly has two different targets for his slider to lefties — one target in the zone, one below it. Unlike many pitchers, García tends to throw his curve high in the strike zone instead of having it fall out the bottom of the zone, but the pitch still frequently misses inside to left-handed batters and outside to righties:

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Featured image courtesy of Kim Klement/USA Today Sports.