Baseball consists of so many household names. Aaron Judge, Vlad Guerrero Jr., Mike Trout, I could go on and on. Yet, they comprise at most 20% of the players in today’s game. Not many people know about the unheralded bench bats, the relievers, or the depth in the minors. Can you blame them? I mean seriously, no one besides us baseball fanatics are going out of our way to add a new name to our list of what feels like a trillion baseball players. Well, as one fanatic to another, let’s add another name to that list. One of the many fascinating relievers in baseball, his name is Jarlín García.
Jarlín García hasn’t had the funkiest career, but it hasn’t been the smoothest. He came up as a farmhand in the Miami Marlins’ system as a starter and pitched three seasons in the majors for them. However, he was used mainly as a reliever and never really found continued success with the team. This culminated in his release after the 2019 season. For a bit, his next step was unknown, right until the San Francisco Giants claimed him before the 2020 season.
With the Marlins, his ERA sat around the low 4 mark. The season before his release he posted a 3.02 ERA and a 3.77 FIP in 50.2 innings. These are good numbers! Great even! His work with San Francisco so far scoffs at these numbers. In 2020, he put up a 0.49 ERA in 18.1 innings, a very small sample due to the COVID season. It was fair to wonder if this success would continue. But it absolutely did. In 2021, he posted a 2.62 ERA in a career-high 68.2 innings. And so far in 2022, in thirteen innings of work, he hasn’t allowed a single run. Sure he didn’t pan out as a starting pitcher, but he’s become a hell of a reliever. In fact, since joining the Giants, he’s posted a mere 1.88 ERA, eleventh among all relievers in that time frame.
Let’s take a further look behind the scenes at what allows for this success.
At face value, there isn’t anything astonishing about García’s pitch mix. He works with a typical 4-seam fastball, changeup, and slider mix. You’ll see on the graph that when he joined the Giants, he started to throw the slider less and less, and the changeup/fastball combo more and more. There’s a reason for this, which we’ll get into in a bit. To understand this reason, we first need to understand the physical properties of his pitches and what makes him special.
García doesn’t throw particularly hard. His fastball velocity sits around the 43rd percentile in 2022 at right about 93 miles per hour. His changeup sits around 85 mph and his slider at 81.5 mph. So if it’s not the velocity that makes him stand out, what is it? The movement on his fastball.
Here’s a list of every pitcher that gets more than 8 inches of horizontal break compared to the average on his 4-seam fastball in 2022:
- Jarlín García
That’s it. García’s fastball has a 124% more horizontal break than the average fastball this year. 4-seam fastballs aren’t known for their wicked movement, but García’s certainly is. He achieves this in part I’m sure due to his grip, but also due to his spin direction on the pitch.
Most fastballs come out of the 12:00 arm slot, where they achieve mainly backspin, which is what we think normally think of as a true fastball. As a lefty with a lower arm slot, García comes out of the 10:15 direction and maintains that spin movement the whole way to the plate. Pair this with his 99% spin efficiency and you’re going to get a whole lot of run on the fastball, which is awfully effective. In 2021, minimum 100 batters faced, García’s fastball tied for the best run value/100 pitches at -2.3, making it one of the best from that year. Take a look at this clip where he utterly freezes Jackie Bradley Jr.
It’s a fastball right on the corner, why didn’t he swing at it! Attribute that to the tail on his fastball. From Bradley Jr.’s viewpoint, this fastball probably looks like it’s going to miss outside for most of its flight, and then tails right back into the corner of the zone to completely stun him. García’s able to maximize his movement in spite of a low overall spin rate thanks to the high aforementioned spin efficiency. Pitching is a game about deception, and García knows that. He knows how his fastball behaves, and naturally, he’s going to design an arsenal based around that, something San Francisco really helped him unlock.
Remember how I mentioned García has increased his changeup usage with San Francisco? Well, here’s the reason. He’s able to achieve an awfully similar spin direction on his changeup (9:45) to that of his fastball (10:15).
Coming out of his hand, just based on the spin direction, his changeup and fastball are awfully hard to distinguish. To help, he keeps his release points awfully tight as seen to the left. There aren’t any tells to his game.
This concept of tying the changeup to the fastball in spin direction and release point falls under pitch tunneling, in which pitches are made to appear similar. In García’s case, the changeup drops out on its way to the plate. While it only averages 27.6 inches of drop, below average for a typical changeup, this doesn’t matter to García. What matters is how different it is from his fastball, and it definitely is given that his fastball only gets 19 inches of drop. That extra 8 inches of drop on his changeup may not seem like a big deal, but in a sport of seconds and timing, it matters. Batters have under a second to detect that extra drop and adjust their swing, and it often isn’t enough.
García knows this and has taken advantage of it location-wise this year.
While he targets the upper part of the zone with his fastball, he plays his changeup right off of it and peppers that lower corner of the zone right beneath his fastball. This is where that extra drop in the changeup is key and befuddles hitters. Look at what it did to Fernando Tatis Jr.
There’s something awfully satisfying about a guy who doesn’t blow away hitters being able to make guys whiff with nothing but tricks. And the neat thing is the data backs this up! García has a 50% whiff rate on his changeup this year, tied for 8th in baseball. It also has a .188 wOBA against, meaning he’s clearly doing something right.
In a day and age where pitchers are routinely relying on their 100 mph fastballs to just blow by hitters, it’s refreshing to see a guy like García win off simple yet effective concepts. In part due to the work San Francisco’s done with him, he’s really taken advantage of pitch tunneling and the movement profiles of his pitches. The Giants know how to maximize their pitchers’ effectiveness and García’s just another example of that, albeit in an atypical way. Understanding what goes into that effectiveness can really open up your appreciation for a guy like him and baseball in general, and by adding a new name to your list of random baseball players, I hope I did that.
Featured Photo: @SFGiants
All Stats As Of 5/19/22.