Luis Garcia Has Become the Phillies Bullpen Workhorse
Luis Garcia was a great story back in 2013. He was a 26 year old who had been out of affiliated baseball for 2 full seasons, had barely pitched above low-A, and was working as a barber. After destroying three levels of the Phillies’ system, Garcia reached the majors in July. He had a hard fastball and nowhere to throw it. He would spent 2014 for the most part in Lehigh Valley, winning the Paul Owens Award in a weak farm system. His 2015 season would yield major league success, but also a bunch of walks and inconsistent game to game results. In 2016 he posted an ERA over 6 in the majors in 15.1 innings, and spent most of the year in AAA. When the Phillies faced a 40 man roster crunch in the fall of 2016, it looked like Garcia and Adam Morgan were on the outside. The Phillies kept Garcia, citing his new splitter and their lack of major league ready relief depth. He pitched in 5 games for the Phillies in April before being in AAA until May. Garcia has been in the majors since.
He has been good since then as well. In the last calendar year here is how Luis Garcia ranks among pitchers with 0 starts and at least 50 innings pitched (157 qualified):
Games Pitched – 10th (75)
Innings Pitched – 12th (78.1)
ERA – 38th (2.76)
GB% – 17th (56.5%)
HR/9 – 4th (0.34)
It is easy on some level to see why Garcia has success. He throws really hard, averaging about 97mph on his fastball. The pitch has movement on it too. The problem is that Garcia doesn’t actually miss bats. He has a 20.9% K% this season, following up a 20.3% rate last season. The league average strikeout rate for relievers is 24.2%, and Garcia is in the bottom third of relievers in the majors in striking out batters. A lot of that blame lies with his fastball, which has a whiff percentage of 7.6% and 8.3% the last two years. What the pitch does have going for it is a great groundball percentage with about 60% of all balls in play off of it ending up on the ground. Now Garcia isn’t just pounding the strike zone with fastballs hoping for a weak ground ball. He has a slider and a splitter, both of which are good pitches, generating decent numbers on swings and misses on their own. This has helped reduce Garcia’s walk rate and allow him to be efficient, because batters are getting behind in counts and having to put the fastball in play.
This all makes Garcia kind of a weird pitcher in the modern game. He has power stuff, but his entire success model hinges on poor contact. It has really worked so far with opposing batters hitting 13 extra bases total off of him in the past two seasons. He has been especially devastating to righties, but the development of his splitter has led to slightly better success against lefties than early in his career. The lack of overpowering swing and miss stuff does cap Garcia’s ceiling. He is never going to be a closer, he is probably not going to be the shut down 8th inning guy on his own. What he has been is a guy that the Phillies have been able to rely on against tough right handed batters in high leverage situations. It will likely change as Tommy Hunter gets established and Pat Neshek gets back, but Garcia, Arano, and Morgan have been Kapler’s go to 7th-8th inning bridge relievers and so far they have been up to the task. All that isn’t bad for a guy who has seen career almost end a few times.
Stats from Fangraphs and Brooksbaseball