Matt Garza should Lead the National League in Starts - and get 0 more Wins.

Huh? What is this man saying? What am I possibly saying?

First thing's first - Matt Garza's team, the Milwaukee Brewers, played a Memorial Day afternoon game against the New York Mets. Garza, as you may have guessed, was the starting pitcher.

Ah Matt Garza -the 33 year old former ALCS MVP, coming off back-to-back seasons with WHIP's north of 1.500. He hasn't made 30 starts since 2011, hasn't notched 200 innings since 2010, and until today, I'll bet most Mets fans had assumed he had long-since retired since he's spent most of this past decade in fly-over country.

He started well enough though - the Mets couldn't touch him on the first run through the order. 1 for 8 with a walk, allowing Garza to cruise without allowing a run through the first 3 innings. He seemingly continued this stretch of excellence, at least by observing the box score, wasting a 1-out single by Lucas Duda by getting Curtis Granderson to ground into a (decently smacked) double play.

The fifth inning was not Mr. Garza's friend, however. Facing the 6-7-8-9 hitters, Garza surrendered back-to-back base hits followed by a smashed double by back-up catcher Rene Rivera and then mercifully allowed just a well-hit sacrifice fly to the pitcher Robert Gsellman. Leadoff man Michael Conforto then doubled home Rivera and Jose Reyes smashed a hard lineout to the gap in right-center, which might have left about a dozen or so parks.

Given that the Brewers' bullpen has been overused and, relatedly, ineffective of late, manager Craig Counsell tried to get another inning out of his starter but he would be bounced after allowing another two baserunners.

The final line: 5.2 IP, 7 H, 2 BB, 4 ER, and 4 K's. Game Score of 48 for those who care.

Not great, but not exactly the worst start of all-time. Still, why would I advocate for this man to start any more than he his? I'm getting to that, I promise.

That's the thing - this start wasn't uncharacteristic of Garza's career. Like most starters, Garza's performance drops off the more starters get a chance to look at him; realization of this general fact is what led to wide-spread use of specialized relievers throughout Major League baseball.

Unlike most starters, Garza's most severe drop-off takes place after one run through the order, not 2. Look at his career splits (courtesy of

1st PA (BA/OBP/SLG): .233/.293/.375

2nd PA: .268/.329/.428

3rd PA: .267/.334/.409

The last two years plus so far during this one, here's what Garza's OPS-against has looked like compared to the rest of the league (starters only):

Garza, 1st time through order

MLB, 1st time through order

Garza, 2nd time through order

MLB, 2nd time through order

Garza, 3rd time through order

MLB, 3rd time through order






















Batters performing better against a pitcher as they get more looks is not a new thing. Due to batter familiarity with the opposing pitcher and arm fatigue, it's natural and consistently observed for pitchers to trend downwards later in games. But it's not normal to see a pitcher be better than league average and then plummet so drastically below league average after one look; most starters see a gradual decline in their effectiveness as the game (and their arm) wears on. In Garza's case, it's likely more due to familiarity than strain since he becomes very hittable so early on.

His career numbers seem to indicate that this isn't a new phenomenon for Garza. He certainly wasn't letting the league at-large rake like Mike Trout after one look in his days with Tampa Bay, but the overall career numbers - save for an apparent anomaly in his first year as a Brewer - seem to indicate a player who becomes easier to read and thus easier to face after one plate appearance. Look at how this has translated on an inning-by-inning basis over his career:

  • 1st Inning (ERA/OPS-against): 3.80/.678
  • 2nd Inning: 3.24/.693
  • 3rd Inning: 4.66/.759
  • 4th Inning: 4.91/.755
  • 5th Inning: 2.89/.654
  • 6th Inning: 5.90/.835

The man's effectiveness plummets in the third inning! When California fans are just getting settled into their seats, his opponents are fairly settled into the batting box.

There's a term for pitchers like this: relievers. Relievers often end up in their roles due to an inability to throw multiple plus-pitches at a big league level, making them effective only over short stretches. Garza features an average 4-seam fastball and shaky breaking pitches - he has multiple pitches but doesn't throw any of them with the consistent effectiveness you'd like from a starter.

But he's nonetheless effective on that first run through the order. Better than average, in fact.

This is why the Brewers should re-think how they use their highest paid pitcher. Matt Garza should continue to start baseball games...until familiarity sets in for his opponents.

Proposal: Matt Garza should face 9 batters every start. He should start every third day (no more than once per series), face 9 batters - for an average of 35-40 pitches per start - and then hit the showers, not to be seen again until 3 days later. Lineups shouldn't get a chance to make adjustments to him, because the Brewers shouldn't let them.

Matt Garza

Adoption of this idea would see Garza make 35 more starts for the year for 2017. He'd average around 7 outs (2.1 IP) per start and end up tossing around 80 more innings.

Using him in this way would make him, in effect, a closer...who starts the game. An opener if you will - a term which I cannot coin, since Brian Kenny beat me to the punch in his excellent book Ahead of the Curve where he discusses a similar albeit slightly different concept for what he sees as the future of pitcher utilization.

The difference is that Garza would be used in such a way that he would be guaranteed to face the toughest hitters in the opposing lineup, and be essentially guaranteed to face them with the game either tied or within a run or 2. His outings would have a more tangible impact on game outcome than the vast majority of modern save opportunities.

The Brewers would need to find a way to make up a net of 80 or so IP. The answer to that puzzle piece likely revolves around semi-promoting a man already on the active roster: Wily Peralta.

Peralta should not be starting every 5th game for the Brewers. Counsell and the Brewers were right about that. However, in his current status, he can be estimated to pitch roughly 50 of the Brewers' remaining 1000 or so innings the rest of the year (assuming he's used like a standard reliever). But, if he's used as Matt Garza's personal relief man - relieving less often, but for longer stretches of up to 3 innings - he could make nab an extra 60 or so net innings. After all, his demotion to the bullpen was based on various implosions after the third inning this season -similar to Garza, but without a career-long trend.

That leaves 20 or so extra innings could easily be spread over the 4 other starters, assuming all remain healthy and effective - a big assumption, given that Junior Guerra is just coming off the disabled list.

One question remains - would veteran Matt Garza buy in? He's been in the league for over a decade! He's the highest paid pitcher on the staff? Why would he agree to relegate himself to a diminished role?

The answer is that Matt Garza, like most of us, wants to make $13M next year. And like most of us, he's not in a position to make $13M next year as of now. But unlike most of us, he could make $13M next year, if he gets to 39 starts this season which would vest his option for 2018 (which was conditional upon him making 110 starts from 2015-2017, not being on the DL to close the year, and pitching 115 innings this year). This is the only conceivable way for him to make that money (it's actually a net of $8M given a $5M buyout that's included) - nobody else is giving a 34 year old that much money for a 1.500 WHIP next season.

If the Brewers were to execute this plan at the earliest possible opportunity (starting this weekend against the Dodgers) and follow through on it for a full season, Garza would end the year with 42 starts, about 120 IP, and, as I mentioned in the title, no more wins - since a pitcher must go five innings to earn the almighty pitcher-win.

Now, the Brewers certainly don't want that kind of contract on the books next season, but they have very little to lose. If it works, Craig Counsell looks like a genius and it's hard to see David Stearns being too upset about shelling out an extra $8M to replicate similar success. If the Brewers don't remain in first, it will likely not be because they didn't trot Matt Garza out to get shelled on a consistent basis on his second time through the order. And, if things go really south, they can abandon their plan and keep Garza from getting to 39 starts and/or 115 IP.

Could it work? Small sample size alert - but Garza and Peralta's performance in innings 1-2 and 1-3 respectively so far this year would translate into a 2.10 ERA and 1.050 WHIP over about 180-200 IP if successfully executed over a full season. I can't emphasize those caveats enough - by their powers combined, Garza and Peralta almost certainly don't become Clayton Kershaw. But they could combine to make a halfway decent starting pitcher - and earn an innovative Brewers team a playoff berth.