Fact or Fiction examines the 2010 performance of a player, good or bad, and determines whether he'll duplicate his numbers in 2011 or it was just a fluke. Today's Fact or Fiction looks at St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher
Even in the so-called "year of the pitcher" of 2011, a few names really stood out as overachievers among starting hurlers. St. Louis Cardinals lefthander Jaime Garcia and his 2.70 ERA was definitely one of them.
Garcia finished third in National League Rookie of the Year Award voting and was partly overshadowed by dynamic young NL hitters Buster Posey
and Jason Heyward
, who finished first and second, respectively. However, the 24 year-old Mexican lefty had one of the best rookie campaigns of any pitcher in recent memory and could be on his way to a successful major league career if he can keep it up. If he can, the combination of Garcia, Chris Carpenter
, and Adam Wainwright
could give the Cardinals a real chance to claim the NL Central title.
Unlike Posey and Heyward, Garcia was not look at as a top-tier rookie entering the 2010 season, though he did rank second behind righthander Shelby Miller
in Baseball America's 2010 list of Cardinal prospects. His lack of rookie buzz had little to do with his numbers, though, as his performance has not been his biggest pitfall. The problem for Garcia has always been injuries, as he managed just 38 minor league innings in 2009 after recovering from Tommy John surgery and suffered a variety of ailments in prior seasons. He did, however, post a 2.84 ERA and 41 strikeouts in those 38 innings between three minor league teams in 2009, so there were definitely signs that he might be capable of great things.
Garcia's success in 2010 came from a variety of factors, the biggest of which was his ability to keep the ball in the park. He ranked eighth among all major league pitchers in allowing just .496 home runs per nine innings, and that was a major reason that his pedestrian 1.31 WHIP didn't hurt his big season. Though his fastball only sits in the high-80's or low 90's, it has a late sinking movement that induces a high number of ground balls, as evidenced by his 56% ground ball rate last season (according to Fangraphs.com
). Garcia also mixes in an array of off-speed pitches, including a sharp slider (that he developed during his Tommy John surgery rehab), a sweeping slow curve (a solid strikeout pitch), and an improving changeup. This variety of above-average pitches, more than anything, allowed Garcia find success as a rookie.
However, as was the case with his minor league career, Garcia's injury past caught up to him late in the 2010 season, albeit indirectly. Garcia had never handled a full major league season and missed a lot of time in the minors, and he finished his rookie year early by being shut down after his September 13th start against the Chicago Cubs.
Overall, though, if he can condition properly and avoid any further injuries, there is no reason that Garcia couldn't repeat or even improve on his excellent first major league season. He could be on his way to a good major league career.