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Tuesday, April 26, 2005
Body Snatchers

That's got to be the explanation for the recent rise of Jon Garland. Surely the guy we've seen throw the first 4 outings is not the same model of inconsistency we've watched for the past 4 years. Taking a look at the stats in Garland's 4 seasons as a full time starter, he appears to be a completely different pitcher.
              IP       H      HR      BB       K     ERA     BAA
2002 192.2 188 23 83 112 4.58 .258
2003 191.2 188 28 74 108 4.51 .260
2004 217 223 34 76 113 4.89 .269
2005 30 21 1 5 11 1.80 .200
My eyes tell me the same thing. Garland is pitching completely differently. He doesn't seem to be the nibbler that he once was. (His control waned a little at the end of the game last night, falling behind often in the last two innings, but his defense and an impatient Oakland offense bailed him out.)

It's been my contention in the past that Garland's curveball was the key to his success. That theory, it seems, has been debunked. He didn't even use the curveball that often in the first two starts, and I wouldn't say he had excellent command of it in either of the last two outings. I had speculated that the curve, if he was able to throw it in any count, would become his "out pitch." Again, this doesn't appear to be the case. Garland's change up is the pitch that has really been the difference.

Garland's change used to a get-me-over. He wasn't fooling anyone with it, and it often ended up as a souvenir for a lucky fan with out field seats. His change is not in Johan Santana territory. It's not even in Keith Foulke territory, but it's working. Garland has always had a good, but not overpowering fastball. It would top out at about 94, and sat in the low 90's. With the addition of the change, which is running 81-84, with a good motion, Garland has been able to neutralize a player sitting on any one pitch. They've got to be in protect mode.

As if that wasn't enough, he appears to have more movement on his pitches also. I didn't notice at much last night, but in his first three outings he has some late movement on his FB/sinker. Sprinkle all of that with some great defense behind him, and you've a long term recipe for success.

Garland's splits help illustrate what my eyes have seen.

Vs. Lefties Vs. Righties
.287 .832 1.00 .220 .625 2.00
2003 .278 .798 1.17 .234 .708 2.00
2004 .262 .771 1.22 .277 .796 1.90
2005 .098 .268 2.00 .314 .798 3.00
Early in his career, Garland had a lot of trouble with left-handers. That probably has something to do with him facing more lefties than righties on his career. Obviously he's not going to be able to continue with a .268 OPS against lefties, but it's clear that the change-up has been an equalizer. These splits prove that it's a little bit too early to proclaim him a new pitcher, but, I'm happy to see his continued improvement against lefties.

Taking a look at some more esoteric stats gives a broader view of Garland's improvement.
              IP     K/9    BB/9    K/BB   BABIP
192.2 5.24 3.89 1.35 .261
2003 191.2 5.08 3.48 1.46 .255
2004 217 4.69 3.15 1.49 .260
2005 30 3.30 1.50 2.20 .202
Jon's K/9 has fallen in each his years as a starter, but he's offset that with increased control. So far this season, Garland is pitching to contact,(12.8 pitches/IP against a previous best of 15.7 in 2004. This can be explained by allowing less baserunners though) resulting in a much lower K rate, but a much better walk rate.

The final column, BABIP, or batting average on balls in play ([H-HR]/[AB-K-HR]) is a category that Garland excels at. Basically, league average for BABIP is about .300, and you would expect Garland's BABIP to trend toward that level. However, Garland has been in the top 12 in the AL in BABIP in each of the last three seasons. Baseball Prospectus has done some work on this, and have found that certain pitchers (notably the ones with large disparities in pitching speeds)have a greater control on balls in play. Garland is obviously one of these players. Some regression to the mean should be expected, but it's not out of the question for him to post another .250, or possibly lower, BABIP.

Now it's time to temper my excitement about Garland. It's only been four games, 30 innings pitched. He's had some spectacular defense behind him so far. SMALL SAMPLE SIZE warnings heeded.

I still think that Garland is well on his way to having the best year of his career. The key will be his control. Can he continue to issue just 1.5 BB/9IP? If so, I have faith, that even with some regression to the mean, he can post a sub-4 ERA.

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Money well spent