Christian Garcia was probably the biggest surprise on the Nationals postseason roster when it was announced a couple of days ago. The right-handed reliever was warming up in game 1 when Gio Gonzalez was really struggling to throw strikes, but never got into the game as the Nationals ended up winning 3-2, behind a good bullpen effort and a big hit by Tyler Moore (in part of an inning that was handled really badly by both managers).
Garcia made his MLB debut earlier this year (throwing 12.2 effective innings out of the pen, with 10.7 K/9IP and 1.4 BB/9IP) despite already being 27 years old. He was a prep arm in 2004, when the Yankees drafted him in the 3rd round (right before John Bowker. Ian Desmond, Wade Davis, Adam Lind, and J.A. Happ were all drafted earlier on in that round. Only 13 of the 29 other players picked in the round made the Majors, 7 of them posting a negative career bWAR). Injuries really derailed his minor league career, limiting him to 296.1 innings in 6 years (roughly 50 innings a year, and he was mostly a starter). He was released by the Yankees in May of 2010 after throwing just 5.2 innings for the AA club. It was over a full calender year before he was signed by the Washington Nationals organization (and he didn’t pitch in Independent Ball between the stops). This ended his career as a starter and he was assigned to the New York Penn League at age 25 (the average pitcher was 21.4 years old). He was predictably dominant in a short sample and got to face 7 batters in AAA (he got 6 of them out, 2 by strikeout, walking the other one) in an outing. The Nationals started him in AA in 2012, where he was again old for the league, but dominated (1.30 FIP, 2.04 SIERA with a 35 K % and 52 GB % in 20 innings). He was then promoted to AAA, where he pitched just about the same in 31.1 innings (1.96 FIP, 2.47 SIERA, 68.8 GB %, 29 K %).
Garcia has averaged 96.06 MPH on his 4 seam fastball and 95.74 MPH on his sinker since coming up to the big leagues, so he certainly qualifies as a hard thrower (36th hardest throwing reliever in baseball this year, just between Ryan Cook, the key Athletics reliever, and Jake Diekman, the Phillies lefty rookie reliever). However, most likely because of his starter background, he isn’t all about the hard stuff:
As you can see, he likes to go fastball/sinker early in the count and the curve and change when he is ahead or with two strikes. This isn’t anything unusual, other than he isn’t afraid to go to the changeup even when he has the platoon advantage (and he clearly likes it more than the curve overall). It is of the hard curve variety, at about 81 MPH on average.
The change is closest in velocity to Alfredo Aceves and Johnny Venters at 87 MPH. The horizontal movement brings him closest to Jason Motte (who didn’t throw one on Sunday, instead relying on all fastballs and cutters) and Sergio Romo. In vertical movement, it breaks like Lance Lynn’s and sidearming lefty Aaron Loup’s. Overall, his horizontal movement (on all his pitches) is similar to Heath Bell and Al Albuquerque. Vertically, he is a lot like Jerry Blevins and Francisco Rodriquez (K-Rod).
So far, he has struggled somewhat with his release point (and has some really wild pitches on his strike zone chart):
However, it hasn’t translated into walks in the minors or in the MLB, so I don’t know if it is a problem.
His hard curve breaks almost like a slider, as you can see some two plane break:
Despite his age, Garcia is a really interesting pitcher. The question has never been “is he good?”, so it is not like he is a late bloomer. It appears that the move to the bullpen has saved his arm and allowed him to use his stuff even better. This is clearly a major league reliever, and one that looks really good too. He will be cheap as well, allowing the Nationals focus on other areas of their roster going forward.