Diminished fastballs have Blue Jays' Garcia coming apart at the seams

Just eight starts into Jaime Garcia’s tenure with the Toronto Blue Jays, it’s already worth wondering if the club has some buyer’s remorse.

After allowing six runs in 3.2 innings on Tuesday his ERA on the season sits at 6.28 with a 5.74 FIP to match. He’s rocking a -0.1 WAR and his best start with the team was his first, so it’s not like he’s building positive momentum.

When the Jays signed Garcia they were looking for competence rather than dominance as he was tasked with stabilizing the back end of the rotation. Thus far he’s done the exact opposite of that. What is it that’s made him so ineffective that opponents have rocked him to a the tune of a .283/.379/.539 line, though?

Jaime Garcia’s gotten off to a brutal start to the season. (Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)
Jaime Garcia’s gotten off to a brutal start to the season. (Paul Bereswill/Getty Images)

The answer to that question revolves around the two different fastballs the southpaw throws. Garcia likes to throw some kind of fastball at least 60 percent of the time and both his two-seamer and four-seamer have deserted him simultaneously.

When it comes to the four-seamer the issues are pretty cut-and-dried. The first is that he’s throwing it too much. Coming into 2018 opponents had hit .305 and slugged .495 against it and yet this season Garcia has gone to it more than ever before:

Via Brooks Baseball
Via Brooks Baseball

This year, Garcia’s four-seamer has been walloped to the tune of a .380 batting average and .660 slugging percentage and yet its increased usage persists. The reason it’s been hit harder than ever appears to be twofold.

Firstly, the pitch’s velocity is in steep decline compared to recent seasons, losing around more than 1.5 ticks from his 2017 average:

Via Brooks Baseball
Via Brooks Baseball

That problem is exacerbated by where Garcia is placing it. The best place for a four-seamer — especially one lacking a little heat — is up in the zone where effective velocity increases and there is a chance to elicit pop ups and weak flyballs. Unfortunately for Garcia, that’s just never been his game, and he doesn’t have the high spin rate and vertical movement to get “rise” on his fastball — like Marco Estrada for instance — to maximize the effectiveness of the high heat.

As a result his four-seamer zone profile looks like this:

Via Brooks Baseball
Via Brooks Baseball

Unsurprisingly, his slugging percentage on the pitch by location looks like this:

Via Brooks Baseball
Via Brooks Baseball

By and large, hitters are laying off this pitch below the zone and unloading on it when it’s a low strike. The low sub-90 mph four-seamer just isn’t an effective weapon these days and Garcia is going to it far too much.

The 31-year-old’s trouble with the two-seamer is a little more difficult to comprehend. That offering has always been his bread and butter as he’s been one of the most successful groundballers in the game in recent years. When Garcia signed on the Blue Jays figured he’d give their infielders a serious workout. So, far that hasn’t been the case.

Among 130 pitchers who’ve logged at least 30 innings this year, Garcia’s groundball rate of 38.6 percent ranks 97th. Last year, his 54.8 percent mark ranked fifth in baseball among pitchers who threw at least 150 innings.

That difference is easy to peg as a two-seamer issue. This season, balls in play of Garcia’s two-seamers have been groundballs just 39.4 percent of the time. In his career prior to 2018, that number is 60.3 percent. The “why” of the matter remains a bit elusive, though.

Yes, Garcia’s velocity on the two-seamer is down, but the pitch’s movement hasn’t radically changed, nor has its release point or location. It just appears to be a slightly slower version of what we’ve traditionally seen from him. Maybe that alone is enough, it’s hard to say, but the fact of the matter is it’s no longer creating grounders and opponents are hitting .381 off it with a .786 slugging percentage.

Right now, Garcia is a fastball-first starter with two fastballs that aren’t working. Perhaps he could save himself some headaches by tweaking his plan of attack with the four-seamer, but both pitches look diminished and as a result he’s been one of the most hittable pitchers in the game.

There’s no doubt the Blue Jays should expect him to improve — primarily by virtue of the fact he can’t get much worse — but that doesn’t mean he’s going to be the reliable innings-eater they thought they snagged in the offseason.

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