Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Matt Garza reacts after a bunt single by Philadelphia Phillies left fielder Juan Pierre (not pictured) during the third inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE
Some people say that Matt Garza has the yips when it comes to playing infield defense. Opposing teams have taken notice, as they do.
Matt Garza started for the Cubs against the Brewers on Thursday, and Garza retired the first seven batters he faced. The eighth batter he faced was someone named Edwin Maysonet, and on the third pitch, Maysonet dropped down a bunt. You can watch the play below in its entirety:
Wow, look at that, a standard unsuccessful bunt in front of the plate. Hardly anything especially remarkable. But let's go to the Cubs' television broadcast:
Len Kasper: That's actually a ball I don't think Maysonet wanted to deaden [...] He wanted Garza to field it.
Bob Brenly: You're absolutely right, we've seen now three Brewers show bunt at some point in the course of their at-bat, Maysonet the first one to get a ball in play. I think he wanted to bunt that hard right back to the mound and force Matt Garza to make a play. Koyie Hill got out of the chute quickly, called off his pitcher, and took it himself.
All right, so a batter wanted to bunt a ball closer to the mound. Still not really something worth writing about, unless the pitcher on the mound is Matt Garza, which it was.
You might remember Matt Garza from such attempted defensive plays as these:
Matt Garza has struggled very, very badly to field his position. It's not so much the fielding part as it is the throwing part. The overwhelming majority of Garza's throws to home plate are strikes, but when it comes to throwing to another base, Garza channels his inner Kyle Drabek, where I'm making fun of Drabek's unacceptable control instead of his acceptable ERA.
The word of choice is "yips". I don't think that's a word you'd hear from a psychiatrist who wasn't trained at Hollywood Upstairs Medical College, but the word means a specific thing in baseball, and it essentially refers to what Garza has been doing. Whether it's its own problem or a symptom of something else, I haven't the foggiest, because the yips are poorly understood, but if anyone in baseball has the yips today, it's Matt Garza when he's throwing to a base instead of a plate.
For Garza's part, he downplays the severity. And maybe he's right, maybe this isn't a big problem. But what other teams will observe is that it looks like a problem. Bunts have worked against Garza pretty well. Maysonet bunted again in the fifth, albeit with runners on base, but in front of the pitcher.
In 2010, Garza pitched for the Rays, and he wasn't bunted against very often, as is generally the case with American League pitchers. Of the balls put in play against Garza, 1.3 percent were bunts, against a 1.9 percent AL average. Just one of the bunts against Garza was a sac bunt, while 43 percent of the bunts against AL pitchers were sac bunts, but that doesn't change much.
Come 2011, Garza was pitching for the Cubs, and 3.5 percent of balls in play against him were bunts. The NL average was 2.9 percent. 55 percent of the Garza bunts were sacrifices, and 54 percent of the bunts against NL pitchers were sacrifices.
Now it's 2012, and the Garza highlights have gone around. Against National League pitchers, 3.0 percent of balls in play have been bunts. Against Garza, 6.0 percent of balls in play have been bunts, and four of those 11 bunts have been sacrifices, while most of the bunts against NL pitchers have been sacrifices. The samples here are very small, but they suggest an obvious trend. The league is learning that Garza struggles to throw to other bases, so the league is challenging him to make plays. That bunt rate against Garza is the second-highest in baseball, just behind Ross Detwiler, and most of the bunts against Detwiler have been sacrifices.
As just noted, we're dealing with small numbers over big numbers, which makes me uncomfortable. With small samples, nothing can be asserted with too much confidence. But Garza's numbers also make sense, and it'll be interesting to see where they go if he continues to have trouble. What these numbers don't show are attempted bunts that don't work, and that data would be even more interesting to look at. I'm guessing Garza would be near the league lead in that category, too.
No team will ever just keep on bunting back to Matt Garza, over and over again. Some guys are worse at bunting than others, some guys are a lot slower than others, and it's important to preserve the element of surprise. But it stands to reason that Garza will have to deal with more bunts until he proves that he can handle the bunts. It's only a small part of his game, but as the rest of his pitching game is so good, it's a part that will continue to get a lot of attention until or unless it's resolved.