Is Jaime Garcia the Cardinals New (Under)Ground Pitcher?

By Tommy Rancel //

We continue to put the emphasis on understanding small sample sizes
in the early stages for the season. This is especially true for a
veteran player who has a career worth of data suggesting otherwise. On
the other hand, for a younger player the small sample could be a
prequel of things to come, most notably in situations in which the
young player is exhibiting skills carried over from the minor leagues.
 
One young pitcher hoping to continue his small sample size success is Jaime Garcia of the St. Louis Cardinals.

jaimegarcia_playercard.jpg

The 22nd-round draft pick of the Cardinals in the 2005 draft, Garcia
cracked the team’s rotation this spring. After missing most of 2008 and
2009 with Tommy John surgery, the 23-year-old lefty is 1-0 with an 0.69
ERA after two turns through the rotation. Garcia’s performance will
surely normalize. Still, there is a lot about Garcia’s game and the
situation he is in with the Cardinals.
 
The most notable skill
Garcia possesses in the ability to get groundballs. In nearly 400
cumulative innings in the minor leagues, Garcia’s ground ball rate was
a fantastic 58.7%. In fact, 60% of the balls hit by right-hander
hitters off Garcia in the minors stayed on the ground. Groundballs are
great – especially for a starting pitcher – because at worst they
surrender a single, and never go for a home run.
 
In his brief
major league career, Garcia has carried over this ability. On the young
season, he has a 69.7% groundball rate. Working with Dave Duncan, one
of the game’s best pitching coaches and noted groundball enthusiast,
should only help Garcia maintain an above-average ground ball rate. To
date, the Duncan-led staff has the highest GB% (50.9) of any team in
the majors. We recently profiled Duncan’s effect on Brad Penny.

Thanks to his groundball ways, Garcia has been able to keep the ball
in the park. In 394.1 innings in the minor leagues, he allowed just 29
balls to leave the park. That translates into a wonderful home run per
nine (HR/9) rate of 0.63. He has not allowed a home run in 13 innings
so far this year, and his groundball tendency should limit the amount
of home runs given up over the course of the year.

Thumbnail image for jaimegarcia_spiderchart.jpg
 
In
addition to the stellar groundball and home run rates, Garcia has
exhibited good control throughout his professional career. In the minor
leagues his strikeouts per nine (K/9) was a healthy 8.3, while
maintaining a manageable 3.0 walks per nine (BB/9). Those numbers have
regressed slightly at the highest level, but nothing considered drastic.
 
Not
to sound like a broken record, but understanding small sample sizes
can’t be stressed enough. However, in certain cases, and even more so
for younger players, they shouldn’t be ignored completely. For example,
Garcia is a much better choice than Livan Hernandez.
Despite the small sample on both, Hernandez has proven below average
for the past few years and likely will regress towards the same level
in 2010.

Currently, Garcia is an unknown commodity. But if he adds another
win in his next start he will start to gain notoriety. That said, feel
free to add Garcia right now in deeper mixed league or NL-only formats.

For more on Jaime Garcia and young players off to hot starts check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.

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