One of the more disconcerting developments for the 2015 Phillies thus far has been the ineffectiveness of the pitching staff. Coming into the season, it was supposed to be the best part of the team, especially the bullpen. While there have been some very good individual performances, as a collective unit, the Phils pitchers have been underwhelming.
The pitching staff as a whole has allowed an average of 4.62 runs per game, the 7th worst mark in baseball. They are also allowing free passes at the alarming rate of 4.2 BB/9, the 2nd worst mark in baseball.
A couple of the pitchers possess ERAs that are quite bad: 9.22 for David Buchanan, 9.00 for Jake Diekman. This will skew the numbers a bit, but on the whole it can be said that the pitching staff simply hasn’t been very good.
There are, however, several bright spots.
While taking into account the Small Sample Size (SSS) warning, Jonathan Papelbon has continued his string of success here in Philadelphia, posting a 1.17 FIP in six appearances. Ken Giles has battled wildness and an overall drop in velocity, but still looks like a highly effective setup reliever for the team.
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The biggest surprise so far has to be Luis Garcia. Garcia has posted a 1.13 ERA in eight innings of work, striking out 9 batters-per-nine, and inducing groundballs at a staggering 90% clip.
Advanced numbers say he’s been a tad lucky thus far, with a 2.72 xFIP, and that groundball rate will surely fall. Still, he’s not getting hit very much, possessing a .286 BABIP, and Garcia has yet to allow a home run this season.
The website Crashburn Alley suggested that Garcia would be an arm to watch this year, based on how strong his numbers were in 2014, as well as the adjustments he appeared to make while in the minor leagues. So far, he has lived up to those hopes. So, how has he done it this season?
The CA piece mentioned that his slider was on a par with Giles’ when it comes to effectiveness, and that it could be an effective weapon this year. Garcia must have agreed that it was his best pitch, as he has featured it more this year that in the past.
In 2013, Garcia used his slider 36% of time. In 2014, it was up to 38%. This year, he’s using his slider in 45% of his pitches, a fairly dramatic increase. He seems to be throwing it less across the zone and more down in it.
Naturally, you would have to believe that if a pitch is breaking down and away from the batter, if contact was made, it would most likely be hit on the ground. Garcia has in fact been burying this pitch. While there isn’t much difference in where he’s putting the pitch from last year, the fact remains that he is burying this pitch and getting hitters to chase.
*This chart of pitch location would also probably go a long way to explaining his huge GB% number thus far.
The increase in effectiveness of the slider has helped Garcia to put hitters away, something he had trouble doing in the past. When Garcia was up with the Phillies in ’13 and ’14, opposing batters could pretty much wait for a pitch to hit within the zone. His pitches weren’t causing anyone to chase, a key part of contributing to a major league bullpen. Thanks to improvement in his overall stuff, there is a direct correlation between that improvement, and hitters being more likely to get themselves out.
In 2013 and 2014, Garcia’s O-Swing% (the percentage of pitches at which a batter swings outside of the zone) numbers were mediocre, 28% and 31% respectively. This year, his O-Swing% is up to about 41%. That would put him a staggering 27th among all 415 MLB pitchers who have registered at least one out this year.
Will Garcia still be putting up these numbers come June or July? Based on those improvements made last year, and the carry-over into this year, the odds would appear to be in his favor.
As the Phils radio announcers mentioned the other night, it seems as though Ryne Sandberg has begun entrusting Garcia with the 7th inning, a key spot leading to late-inning options Giles and Papelbon. With lefties going 2-4 against him in limited action, it might be smarter to continue using Garcia more against righthanded batters.
It is encouraging to see the Phillies develop another effective bullpen arm. Fans can now take comfort in the fact that games are a little more secure when the team takes a lead into the 7th, 8th and 9th innings, however few and far between those occasions might actually come.