It’s been a long time since Jaime Garcia has been healthy when the playoff started. Four years to be exact. I’m sorry, but 2012 doesn’t count. When Jaime Garcia took the mound in an NLDS game against the Washington Nationals, lasted less than 3 innings, got hammered and informed the press afterwards he had pitched hurt. That wasn’t as shocking of a revelation as Manny Pacquiao saying he fought Floyd Mayweather Jr. with a bum rotator cuff but it was enough for General Manager John Mozeliak to question Garcia’s loyalty. The next two seasons Garcia made a total of 16 starts and zero playoff innings.
Flash forward to this weekend and Garcia is ready to give the Cards a dose of nasty on the mound against the Cubs or Pirates in the NLDS. He doesn’t have to hide an injury this time. Just be deceptive enough to cause hitters to go insane at the plate trying to guess where his next pitch wants to dance. This Jaime Garcia is a far better pitcher than the young one who took the mound in the memorable Game 6 against the Rangers in 2011.
In every way, Garcia was more efficient in 2015 and harder to hit. His fielding independent pitching was 3.01 and his ERA+(which adjusts it for a player’s ballpark) was 162, which is 62 points above average. Garcia was good on the road, at Busch and anywhere else the Cards needed him to pitch. This is a guy who doesn’t need a lot of pitches to break a lineup. He doesn’t induce 7 foul balls in an at bat like Lance Lynn or struggle with his location like Michael Wacha. Garcia’s pitches have so much movement that hitters have zero clue which pitch is coming or where it will end up. His ERA of 2.43 and WHIP of 1.05 is filthy and among the best in the league. Once an risky gamble of talent, Garcia looms as one of the best kept secrets in October.
Is he pitching differently? Yes and no. In 2011, Garcia relied on his four seam and two seam fastball along with his slider and changeup. His slider got the most whiffs per swing while his two seamer did damage as well. In 2015, he is relying on that slider to collect a high whiff rate and throwing his fastball. Over the 2015 season, Garcia has thrown his fastball an average of 26 percent while relying on his two seamer and slider. Garcia isn’t throwing the curve a lot in 2015, but hitters are swinging and missing on it when he does choose the bender. As the season has gotten older, Garcia has used his changeup more as well. If there is one change between 2011 and 2015, it’s the higher use of his four seam fastball to go with his regular two seam heater attack. When he throws off speed, it appears as a golf ball to hitters.
Call it older age and higher knowledge or a more adept sense of his craft, but Garcia is a different pitcher right now and it’s exciting to watch.
A healthy Garcia gives the Cardinals a unique weapon in the playoffs. A guy who can pitch anywhere and carries a huge chip on his shoulder for time lost. While Garcia is still only 29 years old, he has to feel like his career is just beginning and there’s a lot to prove as the Cards varied assortment of young pitching filters through. Pitching that is cheaper and more flexible in their options than his own plans. 2015 may not feel like the final stand for Garcia in a Cardinal uniform to fans, but for Garcia it’s a chance to bury the hatchet.
For the first time in four years, Jaime Garcia is a legit playoff weapon for the Cardinals.
Research courtesy of Baseball Reference and Brooks Baseball