Luis Garcia debuted for the Houston Astros last season, but only pitched 12.1 innings. This season,, he’s been a staple in their rotation and a large reason why the Astros look poised to win the AL West for the fourth time in five seasons. Through 18 games started, Garcia has logged 100.2 innings with a 3.49 ERA, 29.3% strikeout rate, and a 7.7% walk rate. However, he’s coming off one of his worst starts of the year — where he gave up five earned runs, including two homers — in just 4.1 innings against the San Francisco Giants on Sunday afternoon. In fact, this was his second straight start giving up five earned runs in less than five innings. Garcia is predominantly a fastball pitcher, throwing his four-seamer 47.3% of the time and his cutter 21% of the time, and I can’t help but wonder if he’s possibly going to the heater more often than he should be. Let’s examine.
Over his last two starts, Garcia has allowed three home runs — all of which have come off his four-seam fastball. On the season, he’s allowed 13 homers, where nine have been off his four-seamer, three have been off his cutter, and one has been off his changeup. By sheer quantity of fastballs thrown, it shouldn’t really be a surprise that it’s allowed the most home runs, but the pitch also carries a 51.4% hard hit rate and a .388 xwOBA. That’s a bit troubling. Garcia’s fastball still has a 28.8% CSW rate, which is okay by the metric’s standards, but hitters are only whiffing at it 19.2% of the time. So while the pitch still finds the strike zone decently, it isn’t necessarily a threat to hitters by any means. Additionally, I don’t think Garcia’s fastball is utilized in the most effective manner. First, Garcia doesn’t locate his fastball particularly well, with a zone rate (54.7%) that places him in the 32nd percentile of starting pitchers with at least 300 four-seamers thrown. But, when he does find the zone with it, he’s not spotting it in any shadow of the plate — it’s right in the heart.
Secondly, the pitch’s specs aren’t all that encouraging either. Garcia’s fastball has below average horizontal movement, with 32% less break than the average. The pitch has slightly above average vertical movement, rising 14% more than the average, but I fear that this rise effect becomes somewhat nullified. Garcia gets decent spin on his four-seamer, but he gets below average extension on the pitch with a middling vertical attack angle. Pair this with his location, and it starts to make a lot more sense why the pitch ranks in the 31st percentile by SwStr rate. Fortunately, Garcia’s fastball hasn’t been barreled at a substantial rate, but a lack of whiffs and a 20.3% line drive rate have contributed to hitters hitting .303 and slugging .528 against it. Now get ready for my proposed solution. It’s a crazy one, so hold on to your butts. Garcia should stop throwing his fastball!
Maybe not entirely, but a good bit of that usage could be dropped and utilized in other pitches. He throws four other pitches: a cutter, slider, changeup, and curveball. And all four pitches are performing substantially better than his four-seam fastball. Perhaps part of this is just the benefit of not throwing a pitch nearly as often, so hitters have a harder time familiarizing themselves with it, but maybe these pitches are just better. His second most used pitch is his cutter, another fastball, but this one has all the makings of a better pitch. Garcia’s cutter has a 33.7% CSW rate, carried by a 24.9% SwStr rate — the highest SwStr rate for a cutter among all pitchers with at least 200 thrown. Among the same group of pitchers, here’s how dominant his cutter has been.
It’s been the best cutter in the league! Hitters hold a .080 xBA and .169 xSLG against it, while hitting it hard just 28.8% of the time. The pitch benefits from above average horizontal movement, where it breaks 83% more than the average, but the main reason I think it’s been so great is where he throws it.
Garcia has been so consistent with the pitch, running it in on left-handed hitters and keeping it away from right-handers. As a result, right-handers are hitting just .135 against the pitch while left-handers can only fare slightly better, hitting .158 against it. It’s been an exceptional pitch for him and could easily replace his four-seamer, in theory. Take a look at how differently they move, thanks to the great Alex Fast.
If Garcia doesn’t want to go all in on using his cutter as his primary fastball, that’s cool too! Because Garcia’s cutter isn’t his only pitch that’s been great. His CSW rates for his slider, changeup, and curveball are 42.2%, 31.5%, and 39.6%, respectively. Each of the three pitches have a whiff rate above 42% and a hard hit rate below 26%. Hitters have a .173 xwOBA against his slider, a .214 xwOBA against the changeup, and a .141 xwOBA against the curveball. To reiterate, Garcia throws his fastball so often that each of all three of these pitches are thrown less than 13% of the time, so they certainly reap the benefit of not being thrown too much. However, his changeup has slightly above average run and his slider has exceptional break to it, finding nearly 17 inches of break (78% better than average). And similar to his cutter, all three pitches are located in ideal locations.
As a pitcher who jumped straight from High-A ball to the big leagues, Garcia missed out on a lot of time for development. He’s 24-years-old and might be on his way to a ROY award. I’m not advocating for a complete arsenal change, but it’s clear that his most thrown pitch is also his worst pitch — and by a large margin. I’d like to see Garcia cut back on throwing his four-seamer. Whether he replaces those pitches with his cutter, or a combination of his three other pitches, doesn’t really matter! But as Garcia continues to throw more innings in a single-season than he ever has, possibly hitting an inning cap (a different discussion to be had), I worry that his fastball will only perform worse and worse. A fastball that gives up hard contact half the time, rarely finds a whiff, and isn’t finding a ton of ground balls, is not going to be friendly to any pitcher. However, Garcia has enough tools to right the ship and might just be one adjustment from taking his next step as a big league pitcher.
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Jacob Roy (@jmrgraphics3 on IG)
I’m just here to say #FreeChristianJavier
I made the same comment that he should reduce fastballs the other day and it seems strange that with the Astros analytical approach they haven’t identified/communicated the same to Garcia. I will say that watching the last two games the homers have come off of fastballs that he couldn’t locate up or above the zone. He is missing badly when that is the call often and he paying for it.