Luis Garcia became the poster child of sorts in the offseason when Major League Baseball announced it would enforce balk and illegal pitch rules. As such, the league informed him and the Astros last December that his unique “rock the baby” windup would no longer be allowed, a byproduct of the league’s new pitch timer rules in addition to the enforcement of existing rules. On the one hand, I understand the rationale as Garcia’s old windup technically violated the rules in terms of how many steps forward and backward he had. However, on the other hand, I remain a bit disappointed as his windup was a delightful deviation from this sometimes mundane routine.
Regarding overall performance, I am not ready to declare that Garcia’s current struggles through 14 innings — 7.71 ERA, 5.68 FIP — are primarily related to his new windup. I think there is something in his release points as Garcia’s have noticeably changed in 2023, specifically on the horizontal plane. Because some of these release point changes were already in progress by the second half of 2022 when he still had his exaggerated windup, I am not necessarily sold on that being the key reason for his struggles. However, it could be one of the reasons.
But it is clear at present that Garcia’s primary issue this season is how his four-seam fastball simply isn’t working as it should right now. To put it bluntly, it is getting crushed.
Opposing hitters are not missing when it comes to Garcia’s four-seam. Average velocity compared to last season is down by about 1.3 miles per hour. Whiffs are down by nearly 8%. Considering where Garcia has primarily thrown it this season, that’s likely not a good thing. While he has thrown his four-seam less in the zone — again, a small sample — historically it hasn’t been a chase-worthy pitch. This rings especially true considering he isn’t peppering the edges as well as he has done in the past. By missing on the edges, opposing hitters are either capitalizing in the strike zone or harmlessly letting it go by outside. His 3% increase in walks — 7 free passes in 14 innings — supports this thought.
His results and expected results (.565 wOBA, .602 xwOBA) are both awful. Of his nine extra-base hits, four have occurred on a four-seam fastball. Yes, he’s only 14 innings and 101 four-seams into the season, but the early results are not encouraging. To be fair, it was never like Garcia’s four-seam was the main pitch from his arsenal; he has always relied upon multiple average to above-average offerings up to this point. But for a pitch that he still uses nearly 38% of the time, it is clear that its performance is holding Garcia back.
At this point, I wonder if his new windup and velocity decrease on his four-seam are at least somewhat intertwined. Consider the GIF above for a moment: it is possible that the prolonged windup gave him a bit more momentum compared to his traditional motion. It is obviously more complicated than that, and I could be completely off base, but that aspect likely warrants some additional thought. Regardless, it is clear that Garcia is struggling at the moment and his four-seam performance is a considerable cause of it.