Matt Garza, FIP Poster Boy

With any luck, some of the DIPS proselytizing Parkes and I do around here rubs off on a new non-believer a week. Pitchers are at the mercy of so many different factors beyond their control – it only makes sense to judge them by a few specific criteria.

By just about any measure, Matt Garza‘s move to the Chicago Cubs is proving successful. The former Rays “ace” is setting the National League ablaze, striking out 41 hitters in just 30.1 innings while walking just 9. He is yet to allow a home run and pushed his ground ball rate over 50% for the first time in his career.

He is pitching as well as he ever has. He ranks first among starting pitchers in FIP (fielding independent pitching) and expected FIP, both numbers sit under 2.

Oh by the way, Matt Garza is 0-3 with a 4.11 ERA.

Thanks in no small part to the pitiful Cubs defense, Garza brings a deeply unfortunate and wildly unsustainable .417 in play average. How bad is the Cubs defense? Pick your poison. By advanced stats, they rank last in defensive runs saved, making 23 fewer plays than average and fifth from the bottom in ultimate zone rating.

Another, simpler way to quantify the futility of the Cubs defense? Defensive efficiency. How many balls in play do they turn into outs? A mere 67.3% of the time, good for second worst in baseball.

The baby bears put this defense on display last night during a miserable night at Wrigley. Playing the West-leading Rockies in a driving rainstorm and frigid temperatures, the Cubs kicked the ball around to the tune of 4 “errors.” Stud shortstop Starlin Castro committed three puntings – in a single inning! – while Matt Garza showed real leadership by throwing a ball away in the fifth, allowing a run to score and himself to take the blame.

“We lost tonight because I can’t throw the ball to first base,” Garza said. “I throw the ball to first base and it’s a 3-3 ballgame, we’re still playing. That’s all there is. They spotted me three, and we had some hiccups in that second, but that ball thrown away, you can’t do anything like that. That was more the turning point than anything.”

Sorry Matty, I just don’t buy that.

You are doing ALL that you could possibly hope to do. Sure, throwing a ball away hurt you team last night, but that isn’t what they pay you for. They pay you to pitch…and pitch you have. Like a champ (or a man, if you prefer).

The BABIP will come down just as Garza will allow a home run or two (or three, when the wind starts blowing in Wrigleyville.) So long as Matt Garza keeps striking out 5 guys for every 1 he walks, I’m pretty sure his team will find a way to win a game or two behind this kind of special pitching performance.