Much discussion this season has been centered around one of baseball's most surprising stories. If you have watched games this year, posses a twitter account, or read tabloid and online baseball headlines, you would know that the player I'm talking about is Sam Fuld. From the start of the season towards pretty much the end of April, Fuld did nothing but hit, make exciting plays in the field, and be the Rays most valuable player while others in the lineup struggled. Well, if you've looked at those same tabloids and headlines of late, you're probably aware that Sam Fuld is 3 for his last 41 and now hitting .261/.323/.391.
Fuld had been given the title "The Legend of Sam Fuld" throughout his spectacular first few weeks of April, but surprisingly, so few people have recognized the fact that while Sam Fuld was performing to the best of his or anyone elses ability during the opening month, Matt Garza was doing that and plenty more.
Bill Petti did a fantastic piece a few weeks ago regarding Matt Garza's early success -- Well, I wanted to discuss the fan perspective. Throughout the season I wasn't wondering why or where the Sam Fuld hype and the aforementioned "Legend of Sam Fuld" title came from. Sure, Sam Fuld's April wOBA was .359 while compiling 1.2 wins for his team. He was an integral part of the Rays ball club on both sides of the ball. What I was really wondering was where all the love for Matt Garza was. Anytime you watch a player barely standing 5'10 steal bases, create runs, hit the occasional homer, hustle his heart out, and as I hate to use this term, "be a sparkplug", he's certainly going to draw a significant amount of attention. But Garza, whether he's been under or beside the spotlight has been the best pitcher in baseball so far. And I can guarantee he's been wondering why no one has showed up at Wrigley with a "Legend of Matt Garza" sign.
Pardon me while I try and jot down these stats attempting to not drool:
Matt Garza's thrown 38.2 innings this year (652 pitches). While doing so, he's compiled the best FIP in Major League Baseball at 1.17, 34 points better than Roy Halladay. Garza hasn't given up a home run this year which supports his 1.96 xFIP and his 11.87 K/9 (which leads Major League Baseball as well) goes along fittingly with his 2.56 BB/9 (not spectacular, but not bad). The real problem for Garza this year has been his BABIP of .400, the highest in baseball by 35 points. Using fWAR, he's been the second most valuable pitcher in baseball behind Roy Halladay, who's started one more game than he. Also, during his six starts in '10, he's pitched at Miller Park, Chase Field, and Coors Field. Despite giving up five runs in two of six starts (the unlucky factor), he hadn't surrendered a homer.
Not being a big pitch f/x savvy guy, I checked in with Beyond the Box Score's very own and Pitch f/x genius, Harry Pavlidis who explained that Matt Garza's slider has been the key to his success. According to Fangraphs, his slider has been a MPH faster this year and it's 5.5 runs above average in 2011. His fastball is -0.1 runs below average, surprisngly, as it was 11 runs above average in '10 while he's also throwing it slower on average than last year as well. Bill displayed much more regarding the Pitch f/x side of Garza's success in his piece above including Garza's zone-contact difficulties.
So stats aside, Garza has clearly been the better player for the Cubs than Fuld for the Rays. It's just a shame he hasn't been recognized for it. Apparently the lesson learned is that if Sam Fuld was actually 6'4, slower, and not on the Rays, he wouldn't be getting the love like he did. On the other side of the coin, it's worth wondering if players on the Rays get more overrated than others, just because they are on the Rays. I mean, having a fantastic organization over and being one of baseball's biggest success stories over the past few years is certainly attractive. The Cubs, who have one of the best fanbases in the world still haven't done much since '08 that makes them as exciting as other teams.
While Matt Garza looks to continue his success, it's also worth noting that Fuld needs to get back to his April performance if he's going to keep his job in the Rays outfield. The legend of Matt Garza shouldn't necessarily be promoted nor should any sort of tag on Garza. However, he should be getting more recognition for his stellar start to the '11 season. Going from being a somewhat overrated Rays pitcher in the past to where he is now is impressive. If only some fans knew what they were seeing while watching him.