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Matt Garza and His Slider


Earlier today, the Milwaukee Brewers inked RHP Matt Garza to a 4-year/52M contract. Overall, I’m happy with the deal. He did not cost a first round pick (something that caused many of us to hate the Lohse deal), and if we use the 6M/WAR market price (that is expected to rise over the next few years) that has been established this off-season, he only needs to be worth a little over 2 wins per year.

Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Beyond the general thoughts about the Garza deal, there is something very noticeable about his pitch usage and his career. Through his early career with the Rays he was primarily a four seam fastball pitcher, throwing it between 60 and 72 percent of the time each year with the team. After joining the Cubs in 2011, his four seam usage plummeted to 37.8 percent, and has not risen to above 45 percent. Coinciding with his decrease in four seam usage was an increase in both two seam usage and slider usage. The two seam usage is less significant when you take into account Garza’s injury history, but the slider usage is much more interesting.

The general thought in the medical field is that throwing a high amount of sliders is bad for the elbow. From personal experience, sliders don’t feel all that great when you throw them in high volumes. Eno Sarris from Fangraphs also found that pitchers who threw extremely high volumes of sliders (over 40%) were significantly more likely to end up on the surgeon’s table.

Garza’s increase in slider usage from around 13 perecent throughout his Rays career to between 23 and 25 percent with Chicago and Texas also increased his value on the mound. His first year in Chicago saw a drastic increase in WAR from 1.6 in 2010 to 4.9 in 2011. He also saw a jump in his K/9 from 6.60 in 2010 to 8.95 in 2011. A pitcher throwing sliders leading to more strikeouts isn’t necessarily surprising, but it shows that higher use of his slider makes him significantly more effective.

Unfortunately, after his career year in 2011, Garza has dealt with injuries the past two seasons. Starting 18 games in 2012 and 22 in 2013, it has been a struggle to get a full season out of Garza. However, he was still fairly valuable in those seasons, particularly in 2013 in which he posted a 2.2 WAR over 24 starts (which extrapolated reaches about 3.2WAR over 35 starts).

For Garza to be a really valuable pitcher, he needs to use his slider. Unfortunately, his slider could be a large contributor to his inability to stay on the field. The Brewers don’t need to have Garza healthy for the entirety of the next four years to be worth the contract, but the Brewers are taking a bet on his health. They have obviously checked into his medicals, and the organization was confident enough to give him the long-term deal. That in itself says a lot.

Got a comment on the Garza signing, his sliders, or his inability to throw to first base? Leave it below!