The word “master” has always intrigued me. Master is defined as “a person eminently skilled in something, as an occupation, art, or science.” To me, it has always been associated with music, as there were two records I saw frequently as a child that had the word “master” in them.
First, there was the oddly-named Van Morrison compilation Bang Masters, which featured remixed and re-released versions of several tracks of Morrisons’ that he did not own (side note: if you are not familiar with the odyssey that is Morrison not owning Brown Eyed Girl, it is worth going down that rabbit hole for a while.) Secondly, there was Cat Stevens’ second LP, New Masters, which has the cheerful tune Ceylon City but also The First Cut is the Deepest, a song Stevens sold for 30 pounds and later became a number one hit in the UK for Rod Stewart and in the US for Cheryl Crow.
The common thread, other than the odd coincidence that both future superstar artists lost out on gobs more potential income by selling their early material too soon, was the attachment of the word master before they established themselves with visible potential. Luis Garcia of the Phillies has appeared to be masterful early in the season, pitching four innings with three strikeouts while allowing just one hit and two walks. But is this something we can expect Garcia to continue throughout the season?
While it is very early in the season, Garcia has established improved peripherals while maintaining the gains in velocity he made last season. Take, for instance, his O-Zone rating or the percentage of time opposing hitters have swung at pitches outside the strike zone. Garcia has opposing hitters chasing those pitches 37.1% of the time, up from a career MLB average of 30% while catching opposing hitters looking at 56% of his pitches in the strike zone, up from 40.6%.
Overall, hitters are connecting with Garcia’s pitches at a 70.8% rate this year, down from a career MLB average of 73.1%. For reference, the top 15 among relievers for that category over the last five years, including number one Aroldis Chapman at 63.1%, fall between 63.1% and 70%. And generally, that’s a group you want to be a member of; in addition to Chapman, Craig Kimbrel, Greg Holland, Kenley Jansen, Koji Uehara, and Sergio Romo fill in that list. It sounds obvious but if Garcia continues to improve his swing/miss rate, he will find himself in really good company.
So, what’s the verdict? Is Garcia’s clean slate through four appearances magic or mastery? Well, in the cases of Morrison and Stevens, the “master” title was handed out a bit premature but became accurate. Garcia, now 28 years old, went from barber to Major League pitcher in 2013 and has improved in each season at the Triple-A level. I’m not ready to say he’s a master, but he’s on his way to being an above-average bullpen arm for the Phillies. If those peripherals either hold or improve through the year, then we may know for sure.