When Matt Garza returned from the disabled list to begin his season with the Brewers last week, there was a collective groan from a large segment of the fan base. The (relatively) high-priced hurler has had a nice career and was actually a strong contributor during his first season in Milwaukee in 2014, when he posted a 3.64 ERA in 163.1 innings. But Garza killed just about any goodwill he had with fans during 2015 while he struggled through the worst statistical season of his career (148.1 innings, 5.63 ERA) and left the team during September to be with his wife during a complicated pregnancy rather than pitch out the Brewers’ bullpen.
Expectations were pretty minimal for Garza in 2016, especially given that he missed the season’s first two months with a balky shoulder and was replacing the worst starting pitcher in the majors in Wily Peralta in the rotation upon his return. That makes Garza’s solid start even more of a pleasant surprise. “The Count” has pitched 10.0 innings across his first two starts, allowing just one earned run for a 0.90 ERA with seven strikeouts and just one walk.
Though it’s obviously a small sample, there are some reasons to be encouraged by Matt’s work to this point. His average fastball velocity has remained relatively steady, coming in at 92.3 MPH after averaging about 92.6 MPH during his first two seasons in Milwaukee, according to Pitch F/X data from Fangraphs. After walking 3.45 batters per nine innings last year (his highest mark since 2009), he’s allowed only one free pass thus far. If Garza can maintain his current 48.5% ground ball rate, it would be the best mark of his career. He’s been able to work out of some jams, too, and his 1.40 WHIP can be attributed to a high .382 BABIP against despite allowing a low 23.5% hard-hit rate.
Of course, there are some causes for concern as well. Garza’s 6.3 K/9 matches his total from last year and is well below his career average in that department. He’s gotten swings at just 29.4% of his pitches outside the zone, which would be his lowest total since 2010. His current swinging strike rate of 6.4% is far and away a career low. Batters are making contact with his pitches at an 85.9% rate this season, which would be the highest total that Garza has ever allowed. A 93.3% strand rate won’t continue and neither will a 0% HR/FB ratio.
Overall though, we should consider the early returns on Matt Garza’s small sample size to be encouraging, especially when considering the quality of his work last season. The 32 year old has pitched to a strong 2.33 FIP and a solid 4.04 Deserved Run Average, and with a cFIP of 96 he’s projected to roughly 4% better than league average moving forward. Derek recently did an excellent job of illustrating the potential trade value that a revitalized Matt Garza and his contract could have for the Brewers during their rebuilding process. As he put it so eloquently while with Chicago, Garza could be pitching himself out of Milwaukee if he can continue to re-establish himself as a legitimate big league starting pitcher.