Matt Garza is a really, really good starting pitcher. You knew that, but I'm reminding you. He has a career 3.83 ERA, which is low. Last year, he had a 3.32 ERA, which is lower. Also last year, he finished with a better strikeout rate than CC Sabathia, Felix Hernandez, Mat Latos, and tons of other guys. Literally, tons of other guys. He finished with a better FIP than Zack Greinke, Justin Verlander, Cole Hamels, and similar tons of other guys. There's a reason Matt Garza wasn't going to get traded this past offseason unless someone offered a whale of a package.
Garza's talent was on full display Thursday, against the Milwaukee Brewers. Pitching for the Chicago Cubs, Garza nearly managed a complete-game shutout. He registered nine strikeouts while allowing but a sextet of base-runners. However, what prevented Garza from sealing the shutout wasn't a run. What happened was that, with two outs in the top of the ninth, Garza induced a tapper in front of the plate, and then Garza did this:
At that point, Garza had thrown 119 pitches. An on-target throw to first base would've wrapped everything up all nice-like. Dale Sveum didn't allow Garza to throw a 120th pitch. Shawn Camp came in to record the final out. (Shawn Camp pitches for the Cubs.)
On its own, it's a hilarious error. It's not painful for Cubs fans, because they were up 8-0. Nobody got hurt. The play mattered only to Garza, and his performance outside of this was outstanding. It's such a simple play, and then instead of throwing the ball to Bryan LaHair, Garza threw the ball to a men's room. It's not just a bad throw. Garza didn't make LaHair dive, or spike it. It's a spectacularly bad throw. Garza threw the ball as if he were escaping pressure out of the pocket.
And this is a throw that reminds us that Matt Garza is one-dimensional. Pretty much all pitchers are one-dimensional, in that they're only really good at pitching. But Matt Garza is exceptionally one-dimensional. We've established that he can pitch the living snot out of the ball. But he doesn't play good defense. He doesn't swing a good bat, even for a pitcher. We can't speak to his base-running, because he's just about never been on base.
About that defense - as much as you'd like to believe the clip above is of an isolated event, Garza's done that sort of thing before. A couple clips from 2011:
Garza led all pitchers with seven errors last season, which was two more than anybody else. Five of them were of the throwing variety. If you care to pay attention to a statistic called Defensive Runs Saved, Garza's at 14 runs below average for his career, and that doesn't include his play Thursday afternoon. Pitchers don't get a lot of fielding opportunities. When Garza does, he's no stranger to screwing them up.
And then there's Matt Garza's offense. For the sake of a baseline, we know that pitchers don't contribute much in the way of offense. In 2011, pitchers batted .141, with a .357 OPS. They struck out in a third of their plate appearances. National League pitchers were better than American League pitchers, but only in the way that six babies screaming in the movie theater is better than seven babies screaming in the movie theater.
Including Thursday, Matt Garza has batted 92 times. He's recorded six hits and two walks. Along with those two walks, he's accumulated a staggering 57 strikeouts. Thursday, he went 0-for-4 with four whiffs. His OPS is .181. Matt Garza's career OPS is well below Mario Mendoza's career batting average. According to his plate-discipline statistics, he's swung at balls almost as often as he's swung at strikes. His swings have made contact - any contact - less than half the time.
It's not that Matt Garza doesn't have an okay-looking swing in a vacuum, for a pitcher.
It's that the swing doesn't do anything. And then there's the bunting. If Matt Garza can't swing, the least he can do is bunt, right? Right! In theory. Not so much in reality. A three-pitch sequence from Thursday:
Foul bunt, failed bunt at strike, failed bunt at strike. Bunting-specific statistics are hard to track down, but rest assured that Matt Garza is not good at it. Matt Garza is to offense what gristle is to a steak taco. You hope it's not there, but if it is, you spit it out quickly and hope you don't vomit.
Obviously we don't know much about Matt Garza's base-running since he's almost never been on base. FanGraphs says he's been a hair below-average. Here's a clip of Matt Garza running his heart out:
I think we can probably assume that Matt Garza occupies the opposite end of the base-running spectrum from Dee Gordon. Garza's plan is to never let people know for sure.
It's not a huge problem for a pitcher to be one-dimensional. Pitching is by far the biggest part of the job, and the other stuff doesn't add up to much, positive or negative. There weren't a lot of people complaining about Randy Johnson's terrible offense. But make no mistake: Matt Garza is one-dimensional. Matt Garza is a line. Matt Garza is one hell of a line, but he can only dream of being a plane.