When the Royals acquired Amir Garrett from the Reds this offseason, it seemed more about what the Royals gave up (Mike Minor) rather than what the Royals received in return.
It’s not that Garrett wasn’t going to be a key part of the Royals bullpen in 2022. Rather, it was just that the trade of Minor cleared some salary off the books and opened up a spot in the rotation as well (which eventually went to Zack Greinke). In fact, it was a lot more common to see Royals fans excited about losing Minor rather than gaining Garrett from the Reds at the time of the trade.
In his first season in Kansas City, it has been a bit of a mixed bag for Garrett, which is not surprising considering the Royals’ struggles in the bullpen beyond closer Scott Barlow. After a solid April in which Garrett didn’t allow a run in six appearances and 5.1 IP, things went off the rails for the 30-year-old in May and June.
In 10 appearances and 8.1 IP in May, he posted a 7.56 ERA and 1.56 WHIP, and those numbers only ballooned the following month. In June, Garrett posted a 9.53 ERA and 1.94 WHIP in eight appearances and 5.2 IP.
For a bullpen this year that has struggled with throwing strikes and limiting walks, Garrett was only adding to the problems.
As a result, Garrett found himself phased out of high-leverage spots by the end of June, unless he was pitching against a stretch of left-handed hitters. The lefty platoon split became especially prevalent against the Detroit Tigers at Kauffman in Mid-July, when manager Mike Matheny refused to let Garrett pitch against his archnemesis, Javier Baez, despite Garrett’s pleading.
There’s no question that Garrett has pretty much developed into a LOOGY (left-handers only guy) at this point in his career, which is a disappointment considering he saw some spot closer duties in Cincinnati last year.
Despite his limited role on the mound though, Garrett is adding a jolt of energy to this Royals bullpen, and his role could become even more crucial not just for the remainder of 2022, but even in 2023 as well.
Garrett’s Improvement in the Second Half
Garrett was coming off a rough end in Cincinnati where he sported a 6.04 ERA and -0.1 fWAR in 63 appearances out of the Reds bullpen in 2021. FIP (4.89) and xERA (4.38) suggested that Garrett was better than his peripheral numbers suggested. Furthermore, his 65.7 percent strand rate also demonstrated that Garrett was unlucky with runners on base in 2021. That being said, his walk rate spiked from 10.1 percent in 2020 to 13.5 percent in 2021, and his K/BB ratio also dipped from a stellar 3.71 to a more pedestrian 2.10 from 2020 to 2021, respectively,
Unfortunately this year, the walks have continued to be a problem for Garrett.
Garrett ranked in the bottom fourth percentile with a walk rate of 13.5 percent last year, according to Savant. This year? He doesn’t have enough appearances to qualify on Savant’s percentile rankings, but his 18.5 percent walk rate is five percent higher than his lackluster mark in 2021. And to make matters worse, his strikeout rate is only 23.8 percent, which would be his lowest rate since 2017, when he was still being developed as a starter by the Reds.
Based on those walk and strikeout issues, it makes sense why Garrett struggled so much during the months of May and June.
However, what has been the difference for Garrett in the second half in Kansas City?
Since the All-Star Break, he is posting a 0.00 ERA in 11 appearances and nine innings and only has allowed just three hits thus far in the second half.
The strikeout-to-walk ratios still have been a concern in the second half, as his 1.00 K/BB ratio is actually lower than his first-half mark (1.37), according to Fangraphs splits.
On the other hand, he’s done a much better job in the second half of July and at the beginning of August of not just increasing his groundball rate, but also lowering his line drive allowed rate, as evidenced in the table below:
When looking at the differences between the first and second half for Garrett in approach, a big change for Garrett over the past couple of months has been increasing his fastball usage as well as making it more effective.
Garrett traditionally relies on his slider, which he throws 65.6 percent of the time this season. Now, it’s an effective pitch in Garrett’s arsenal, especially considering its -6 run value, and solid whiff and strikeout rates.
However, a big difference over the past couple of months has been gradually increasing his four-seam usage, which currently sits at 33.2 percent overall this year. Here’s a look at his pitch usage on a month-by-month end, and notice how the gap closes between the slider and four-seamer in July and August.
In addition to an increased usage of the four-seamer, Garrett has also been incredibly effective with the pitch, especially in the month of August.
After generating single-digit whiff rates with the pitch in June and July, he has been able to generate a 36.4 percent whiff rate with the four-seamer this month, his best mark yet in 2022.
And it’s not just making batters swing and miss with the pitch either. His wOBA in August with the four-seamer is down 228 points, and there’s only a 50-point difference between his wOBA and xWOBA as well.
The bottom line? Garrett is trusting his four-seamer more, and it’s a big reason why his ERA has dropped to 4.60 after today’s outing.
Here’s an example of Garrett utilizing his four-seamer effectively in the upper part of the strike zone at 94.4 MPH to strike out the Dodgers’ Chris Taylor on Friday night.
That is a far cry from how his four-seamer looked back in May.
Earlier in the year, Garrett’s mechanics were a lot more out of whack. As a result, his four-seamer command suffered.
In this at-bat below against Gavin Sheets of the White Sox, Garrett is unable to locate his four-seamer in a 3-0 count, which gives Sheets an easy free pass.
Notice how Garrett’s follow-through and finish are a lot more controlled in the August clip rather than the May one. That mechanical adjustment has resulted in a positive impact on his four-seamer, which in turn has put less pressure on his slider to be his “primary” pitch against opposing hitters.
The slider has seen some regression this month, as it has seen a 13.3 percent drop in whiff rate. But the more he trusts his four-seamer, especially in key counts, the better that will make his slider down the stretch this season.
Garrett’s Impact in the Clubhouse
Metrically, Royals fans can see that Garrett is improving on the mound lately, and that obviously boosts a bullpen that needs all the help it can get, especially with Taylor Clarke recovering off the IL due to an oblique injury.
On the other hand, what Garrett has helped bring to the Royals “off the field” has also seemed to positively impact this young Royals squad.
After today’s three-strikeout outing, not only did Garrett show some much-needed emotion on the mound, but he once again hyped up the progress of this young Royals team, which has seemed like a different squad since the August 2nd Trade Deadline.
And this isn’t the first time that Garret has been outspoken about this young group of Royals on social media.
After the Toronto series, Garrett once again spoke out about the talent of the young Royals who made their debut in Canada due to the large number of Royals players who were unable to play due to their vaccination status.
The Royals felt like a lifeless and disjointed club from April through June, and who knows what was primarily the cause, (though I’m sure Whit Merrifield and his frustrations with the losing had something to do with it).
That being said, since the Toronto series, the Royals and Royals fanbase have heard Garrett’s voice more on social media, and not surprisingly, positive results have followed for him and the Royals as well in that timespan.
Granted, it was a bit surprising to see the Royals hold onto Garrett at the Trade Deadline, especially with the exorbitant returns that relievers were commanding this “hot stove” season.
However, the energy Garrett brings to the bullpen and clubhouse is incredibly valuable, especially for a young Royals team that is not just learning to win, but how to bring their A-game to the ballpark each and every game. Garrett’s moxie in the seventh, relieving Brady Singer, who pitched a gem for six innings, seemed to electrify this team and fanbase, especially after a brutal Saturday game where they lost 13-3 on “Salute to the Negro Leagues” day.
And the young Royals need that kind of “vibe” from Garrett, even if it may only be for another year after 2022 (Garrett has one more year left in arbitration).
Honestly, it’s what makes Garrett so valuable on this team right now.
He meshes with this group of veterans. Salvy brings the positive, veteran energy. Greinke brings the hard-nosed, no-nonsense bluntness. And Garrett brings the “dog inside of him” competitiveness that is needed in big matchups like today against the Dodgers, who had won 12 games in a row prior to their loss on Sunday, which included sweeps of division rivals San Diego and San Francisco.
The Royals pitchers and even position players will take something away from Garrett both in the short and long-term.
And as for Garrett?
Maybe he can be one of the veteran pitchers who helps turn this bullpen around not just over the next couple of months, but on a more lasting end in 2023.
Photo Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports