What’s Wrong with Amir Garrett?

What’s Wrong with Amir Garrett?

Last Friday night, Amir Garrett entered a game against the San Diego Padres. The game was tied in the bottom of the ninth, and Garrett needed two outs to take the contest into extra innings. Instead, Garrett gave up a single and then a walk-off home run.

I wish I could say that this was an outlier, a single blemish on an otherwise great season from the left-hander. But, as you are no doubt aware, Garrett’s season has been an absolute nightmare. Garrett, with an ERA of just 2.45 in 2020, looked primed to be a high-leverage reliever for the Reds in 2021. Instead, Garrett’s ERA has skyrocketed to 8.44 and, in a dreadful Reds bullpen, he has found a way to be the worst among them with -0.8 fWAR.

What happened? Let’s dive in.

The Issues

Walks have been an issue for Garrett in the past. Since 2018, his BB% has been a rollercoaster ride — at times pretty decent, and at other times very troublesome. In 2021, Garrett’s BB% sits at 14.4% which currently ranks 192nd out of 214 relievers with at least 18 IP. As I wrote in March, a prerequsite for Garrett to be an effective high-leverage reliever was cutting down the walks, which clearly has not happened. To make matters worse, however, Garrett has seen another stat go way up in 2021.

Walks in and of themselves haven’t burned Garrett before. In 2019, his BB% was 14.2% but his ERA was a measly 3.21. A big difference this season, has been Garrett’s unfortunate penchant for giving up home runs. Right now, Garrett’s HR/9 of 3.66 ranks 214th out of 214 relievers with at least 18 IP. Since moving to the bullpen in 2018, Garrett has never had a HR/9 over 1.96. Keeping Garrett company at the bottom of this list are names like former Red Nate Jones and Jacob Barnes, who have both already been cut by their original team this season. And hey, there’s Heath Hembree.

These numbers can never tell the whole story, though. Let’s take a look at Garrett’s expected numbers.

Researching this post, I expected the numbers to be rough, but this is just… sad. Everything is terrible, minus the whiff and strikeout rates. Once again, we are forced to ask: what happened?

Slider Good, Fastball Bad

First things first, Garrett’s slider is still really good. You noticed that the Whiff% was in the 92nd percentile, right? That’s all slider. Of the 232 sliders that have been used in at least 25 PAs, Garrett’s ranks 11th in whiff%, 25th in K% and 6th in Put Away %. Similarly, his slider’s expected numbers, while not chart-topping, at least solid. Of the same 232 sliders, Garrett’s ranks 106th in xSLG, 122nd in xwOBA and 176th in Hard Hit %. That last stat is a little worrying, but I feel it is safe to say, that Garrett’s slider is not the problem.

No, the problem is most certainly the fastball. Just take a look at these numbers:

These are bad. How bad, you ask?

Out of 347 4-seam fastballs thrown in 25 PAs or more, here’s how Garrett’s 4-seamer ranks:

  • xSLG: 340th
  • xwOBA: 338th
  • Hard Hit %: 319th
  • Whiff%: 343rd

All this to say, Garrett’s 4-seam fastball is among the very worst pitches in baseball.

And this is where things get worse. You see, Garrett doesn’t throw any other pitches. Garrett hasn’t thrown a changeup since 2018, and his sinker wasn’t working in 2019 (.445 xwOBA) or 2020 (.477 xwOBA), leading him to basically throw out the pitch in 2021.

Another interesting development is Garrett’s pitch usage, especially when behind in the count. In 2020, Garrett would throw his slider 44.2% of the time when behind and his fastball 49.5%. In 2021, his fastball usage has ballooned to 73.1% when behind. Couple this with the fact that the percentage of his fastballs that were in the strikezone when behind has gone from 36.2% in 2020, to 58.8% in 2021, and you get the following:

Those are Garrett’s numbers when behind in the count.

Taking a look at Garrett’s fastball placement when behind in the count, he’s not just throwing meatballs down the middle:

But when the batter knows what’s coming, and your fastball Whiff% is fifth worst in the Majors, it’s an uphill battle.


In my post written before the season started, I discussed the concerns I had regarding Garrett’s role in the Reds’ bullpen in 2021. Walks and hard hits were the things I feared could hamstring the left-hander’s ambitions of being the team’s closer this season. While Garrett’s ERA was excellent in 2020, an unsustainable .188 BABIP and a concerning uptick in Hard Hit%, made me wonder about Garrett’s future success when the luck ran out. 2021 has seen the baseball gods take their vengeance on Garrett in a way that I could have never imagined, and there are no signs of things getting better. His numbers are dreadful and his expected numbers are almost as bad.

If you forced me to point to a reason to have patience, I would say that the home runs have to slow down eventually. Taking a look at Garrett’s xFIP (expected Fielding Independent Pitching), it’s just slightly terrible. Basically, while FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) calculates what a pitchers ERA would look like if they had average BABIP, xFIP takes it a step further by also giving the pitcher the average HR/FB (Home Run per Fly Ball).

Garrett’s xFIP is 4.58, which ranks 166th among 219 relievers with at least 18 IP. I know, I’m really reaching.

It really has been a season to forget for a reliever I had hoped would take a step forward in 2021. I can’t lie, I’m a big Garrett fan. His intensity and his passion are both things I believe are good for the game of baseball, and things that make Reds games so much more entertaining. As such, this season has been disappointing to watch, and as much as I love Garrett, I have to wonder how much longer his leash is regarding a place on the roster. His slider is a fine pitch, but it’s not Mariano Rivera’s cutter; he cannot live on that pitch alone, and right now his fastball is not a pitch that belongs in the Majors.

I really hope he magically turns it around, but I have sincere doubts.

[Featured Image: https://twitter.com/Reds/status/1152247780070567940]

Steffen Taudal

Steffen has been a huge Reds fan since watching his very first baseball game during the 2018 season. Despite the Reds finishing 5th in the NL Central for the fourth season in a row, he found himself drawn to the team's storied past and infinitely likable players such as Eugenio Suárez and Joey Votto. Since then, his love of baseball has led to a deep interest in the game's analytics and advanced statistics. Steffen is from Denmark and recently graduated from Aarhus University. You can follow him on twitter @TaudalSteffen

5 Responses

  1. Pinson343 says:

    This is an excellent analysis, obviously. But the problem with his fastball is related to a lack of command he often has with his slider. He needs to be able to throw his slider in the strike zone when he wants to.
    When he’s able to do that, the hitter can’t just sit on his fastball.
    When he can’t do that, he gets behind in the count and on ball 3 or before the hitter just sits on his fastball, to disastrous effect.

    I believe his place on the roster is much more secure than indicated here. When his slider is moving, he’s very tough on LH hitters, who will chase pitches that end up out of the zone outside. Even with the 3 batter minimum, that has value. When a team has 3 batters coming up and two of them are dangerous LHed hitters, Garrett can handle the two lefties and pitch around the righty or even intentionally walk him, depending on the game situation.

    • Steffen Taudal says:

      Thanks for the kind words! Glad you enjoyed it. In regards to Garrett’s roster spot, I was perhaps overly pessimistic, and I certainly believe that Garrett could still fill a role in the bullpen. The bigger question is probably whether he is going to be used as a high leverage reliever on a consistent basis this season.

  2. Mike Adams says:

    I also hope Garrett magically turns it around, Steffen.
    The Reds really really (I mean really) need Garrett since Sims has gone down.
    I think Sims’ elbow problem has been around for a while and explains his lesser performance this year compared to last year.

    • Steffen Taudal says:

      Yeah, that really makes a potential Garrett turn-around that much more valuable. Sims is an interesting case, as his ERA is high, but his FIP, xFIP and other expected numbers are excellent. So, I think Sims’ relatively poor year is more due to bad luck than a potential injury, although the idea that Sims was pitching this well with a lingering elbow issue, means that a healthy Sims would be among the best relievers in baseball. But we’ll see how he fares after a stint on the IL.

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