The Dodgers recently protected Yimi Garcia on their 40-man roster, as the now 23-year-old posted a stellar AA season in 2013. Garcia finished the season with a 2.54 ERA in 60.1 innings, and 85 strikeouts to just 14 walks. The team was impressed enough to send him to the Arizona Fall League, where he held his own over 12.2 innings, posting a 2.84 ERA and eight strikeouts to three walks.
The question mark about his impressive numbers has always been whether he could continue to miss bats as he moved up the ranks. Yimi has proven himself at every level thus far, but scouting reports haven’t exactly been glowing in terms of stuff. He’ll sit 92-94, touch 96, and flash a potential plus slider, which certainly aren’t negatives, but it’s not anything that would back a 12.7 K/9 rate in AA. Thus, to most scouts, he’ll generally profile as a middle reliever rather than a backend guy.
But a recent article at Baseball Prospectus gave me hope that maybe there was something more to his success. Something potentially more sustainable. And via Trackman technologies, that thing may have been found.
Velocity isn’t the only way to get whiffs with the fastball—you can now throw high spin into that equation. “Sneaky” is one of the terms often used to describe a fastball with average to below-average velocity that hitters still swing at and miss at an elevated rate. High spin gives hop or sneak to your fastball. It’s one of the reasons why certain pitchers can throw 90 MPH and still induce a relatively high rate of foul balls and swings-and-misses. Trackman research is now revealing that average fastball spin has a higher correlation to swinging strike rate than average fastball velocity.
Common sense conclusions there, as that stuff’s basically the reason Takashi Saito (for a Dodger example) was able to miss so many bats with an average fastball. But the relevant point of the article is that Trackman can actually measure the spin in question, thus we can determine which pitchers may have this deception.
Koji Uehara is cited as a prime example of a high-spin fastball benefiting his swing-and-miss stuff with mediocre velocity, and he’s at 2427 RPM, which is quite a bit more than the 2200 RPM league average. That now takes us back to Yimi Garcia, because while in the AFL, Trackman had his fastballs at 2504 RPM. That’s promising.
It’s not conclusive given the sample, but I think it certainly may provide some insight as to why he’s able to miss so many bats and perhaps why he’ll be able to continue doing so in the majors.