For as much pitching depth as the Astros possess, it was only a matter of time before some difficult decisions were made about the postseason roster. Quality pitchers, who would have expanded roles on other clubs, are facing a roster crunch in Houston. There are only so many innings to go around in a short series. For example, we’ve already seen José Urquidy moved to the bullpen in advance of the final regular season series against the Phillies. Yes, the same fellow who already has some success in past Octobers. Odds are that he will likely remain in the bullpen if carried on the ALDS roster, barring an injury to another starter. As currently sitauted, the first three starters for the upcoming ALDS is likely Justin Verlander, Framber Valdez, and Lance McCullers Jr. In turn, we’re left one more interesting rotation decision with Cristian Javier and Luis Garcia in the running for the fourth starter role.
Based on his overall body of work in 2022, Javier likely has the inside track to earn a start in the ALDS if it reaches four or five games. I’d argue that he deserves a Game 3 start over even McCullers Jr., but I can understand the rationale of why Javier probably won’t. Plus, there is allure of his past success in relief to at least entertain the idea that you want his arm in a variety of games versus one desingated start in a five-game series. But today’s post isn’t about Javier and his rather valuable flexibility, blessing or curse. Rather, let’s chat about Garcia, who has prompted a renewed discussion about a possible inclusion on the postseason roster based on his last 29 innings pitched.
Garcia, in short, hasn’t had his best, or worst, season to date. Prior to September, his overall results — minus a 2.33 ERA in May — were decidely average. For what its worth, however, Garcia’s peripherals in a couple of months indicated that he was pitching somewhat better than what his ERA were showing, even in that particularly rough August when he posted a season-worst 5.28 ERA. But those five starts also invited more doubt to creep in about whether he would even make the postseason roster over Urquidy as the results do matter. Fast forward to September and we saw Garcia’s results take a step in the positive direction, as he held opposing lineups to a .190/.239/.362 slash line compared to .304/.352/.452 in August. Quite the turnaround.
So, what changed here in September when he posted a 1.86 ERA in 29 innings?
Garcia altered his pitch usage to some degree by decreasing the number of fastballs — cutters and four-seams — while throwing more breaking pitches — curveballs and sliders.
This decision makes sense as Garcia’s four-seam fastball isn’t exactly a stellar pitch on its own. In fact, opposing hitters are slugging .519 against the pitch, which is the equivalent of Rafael Devers at the plate. Not exactly an optimal development. With his four-seam’s average velocity hanging around 94 miles per hour, Garcia has to rely on other pitches to generate better results. That’s not to say that his four-seam is utterly useless, but it does require different types of effective pitches (cutter, curveball, and slider) to succeed. For a few months Garcia relied heavily on his cutter to make up the difference on his four-seam fastball, with usually great results as evidenced by its .216 wOBA on the season. To maintain consistency with the Devers point above, opposing hitters have a .247 slugging percentage against Garcia’s cutter, which is the roughly the equivalent of Josh Smith of the Rangers at the plate.
But the results were still fleeting, as we witnessed in August. Some of it was probably a mixture of poor fortune and sequencing. But, of the 35 hits he surrendered that month, 20 were via his four-seam. As the numbers tell, whenever Garcia feels the nurge to throw more of his four-seam, then bad results may follow. It wasn’t a coincidence that he had a terrific May when his cutter usage increased in exchange for its brethren. But that kind of distribution didn’t work well during the summer, which is partially why I think we saw his curveball and slider assume more promiment roles in his arsenal in September. Those pitches are also why more opposing hitters chased and missed more in general compared to any other point in the season for Garcia.
Garcia is arguably at his best when he mixes up his pitches well, specifically his secondary options. The results in September are a good illustration of this point. That said, I don’t think one good month compared to Javier’s overall track record will usurp any decision for Garcia’s favor, unless the Astros want truly value the former’s versatility in the postseason bullpen. Regardless, I am encouraged by Garcia’s recent results. While I am sure there is more with him to analyze other than pitch usage, it is a development worth mentioning.