Prior to the start of the season I was planning on writing an article about Jaime Garcia and his successful rookie season. The topic slipped my mind and I didn't get the article out before opening weekend. Garcia must have been upset about it because on Sunday he decided to refresh my memory. In his first start of 2011 Garcia pitched a complete game shutout against the Padres while allowing only 6 base runners and striking out 9. Despite his successful rookie year a lot of people still aren't sold on Garcia (he was the 58th starting pitcher off the board on average according to Mock Draft Central). I think the start of Garcia's career and 2011 season are both indicators of things to come. I believe he will build on his solid rookie season and become one of the better pitchers in the National League over the next few years.
Jaime Garcia was a 22nd round draft pick by the Cardinals in 2005. Despite his late draft round, he was impressive enough early in his career to be named the Cardinals second best prospect in 2007 by Baseball America. In 2008, after making his major league debut and pitching only 16 innings, Garcia underwent Tommy John surgery and missed all of 2009 with the exception of a handful minor league starts. In 2010, Garcia become the most recent post-Tommy John success story by going 13-8 with a 2.70 ERA at the young age of 23. Surprisingly, the rookie of the year candidate entering his sophomore season is receiving little hype in both real and fantasy baseball circles.
In 2010, Garcia struck out 7.27 batters per nine and walked 3.53 per nine for a K/BB ratio of 2.06 (All stats according to Fangraphs). This ratio is pretty close to league average. His average fastball velocity was 90.3 MPH last season. He doesn't overpower hitters. Combine these facts with his 2009 lost season due to injury and it's easy to see why people are hesitant to buy into Garcia's success.
Last year, Garcia was able to induce ground balls on 55.9% of the balls he allowed in play. This was good for 6th in the majors among qualifying pitchers. The ability to keep the ball on the ground with such frequency was a large contributing factor to Garcia's impressive ERA. Garcia allowed only 9 home runs in 163 innings in 2010. The ability to keep the ball on the ground and in the ballpark is a talent shared by many elite starting pitchers.
Another talent Garcia showcased in 2010 was the ability to make batters swing and miss. He forced a swinging strike on 10% of pitches, which was 14th in the league. For reference, Felix Hernandez finished the year with a swinging strike percentage of 9.9%. I believe Garcia's ability to force the swing and miss points to a future increase in his strikeout percentage. If he is able to drop his walks just a bit, he may be able to become a dominant pitcher as he matures. I would always bet on a pitcher who has shown the ability to induce ground balls, make batter swing and miss, and keep his walks around a league average level all before his 24th birthday.