The week begins here at Redleg Nation with another look back at the 2019 Cincinnati Reds. Today we are going to take a look back at the season for left-handed reliever Amir Garrett.
The Preseason Projection
After a tough season as a starter as a rookie back in 2017, Amir Garrett moved to the bullpen in 2018 and found a lot more success. Heading into 2019 he was being counted on as a reliever.
Here’s what Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS projections for the 2019 season had to say for the Cincinnati Reds left-handed reliever:
The 2019 Season
To say that the season got out to a nice start for Amir Garrett would be an understatement. In the first month of the season he pitched in 16 games for the Cincinnati Reds and he allowed two runs in 12.2 innings. That’s an ERA of 1.42 for you non-human calculators. He also picked up 14 strikeouts along the way and gave up just one homer – which at the time maybe didn’t seem as impressive as we’d come to find out that it was with a juiced baseball.
May started out a tough game against San Francisco that saw the Reds lose a high scoring one with Garrett giving up a run in the 8th inning – but he got the hold. He didn’t allow another run for nearly three weeks before giving up a run in back-to-back games to end the month. While it wasn’t quite as strong as April on the ERA front, a 2.61 mark in 11 appearances with 22 strikeouts in 10.1 innings is getting it done.
Amir Garrett continued his outstanding season right on into June. The lefty didn’t give up a run during the month until June 18th against Houston – giving up two runs, but still getting the hold in a Reds win. It was the only day during the month he’d allow any runs. He then kicked off July with a perfect inning that had three strikeouts on the 2nd. His ERA sat at 1.70 on the year with 54 strikeouts, three homers allowed, and 20 walks in 37.0 innings. But following the outing he was placed on the injured list with a strained lat.
After being robbed of being selected to the All-Star team, Amir Garrett returned after the All-Star break with a perfect inning against the Cardinals. He pitched in three more games before what was the defining moment of the year. On July 30th against the Pittsburgh Pirates things weren’t going well for the Reds. It was the 9th inning and Cincinnati was down 11-3 at home.
Earlier in the game Derek Dietrich was nearly hit in the head by a pitch. After the inning was up there were some words exchanged by Joey Votto and pitcher Keone Kela, but cooler heads prevailed for the time being. Jared Hughes hit Starling Marte to begin the 9th inning, which led to his ejection and brought Garrett into the game. During a meeting on the mound, the Pirates began chirping, and the Reds left-hander was not having a single bit of it. He yelled back before deciding that he had enough and charged the Pittsburgh dugout.
Things got wild. Real wild. Coaches were fighting. Players were fighting. It was on. And Amir Garrett was the hero that the entire league needed after years of the Pirates feeling they could just throw at hitters for being better than they were.
Suspensions were handed down for the fight, with Garrett getting an 8-game suspension. He initially appealed and pitched for the Reds five times from the start of August through the 11th. Things didn’t go well in that stretch for the lefty, though, giving up four earned runs in 5.1 innings – including two homers. His suspension began the following day and he wouldn’t return until the 20th. When he came back he struggled with his control – walking eight batters in 6.2 innings in the first 10 games, but he only allowed two earned runs in that span. From September 10th through the end of the season he was used often, but in short stints. He pitched in seven games, but only threw 3.1 innings and allowed four earned runs.
The transition to the bullpen the year prior was a step in the right direction. Amir Garrett then took a leap forward from there in 2019. Not everything took a big jump forward, but some areas did and they were important ones. His strikeout rate, which was already strong, jumped to near elite levels as he fanned 31.7% of the hitters he saw on the season. His ground ball rate, which was below-average in the past, also jumped up to near elite levels, going from 38% in 2018 to 54% in 2019.
The big increase in ground balls helped negate a big increase in home runs per fly ball – which the league as a whole also saw thanks to the juiced baseball of 2019. Overall his home run rate per 9-innings pitched remained the same as it was in 2018. The walk rate increase was concerning. At 14.2%, it was among the worst in the league – ranking 7th highest among 158 qualified relievers in baseball. His high strikeout rate and big time ground ball rate helped him overcome it, but it’s an area to keep an eye on moving forward, too. All told, it was a strong season for Garrett, who easily had a career low ERA and showed that he can potentially dominate out of the bullpen. And that you probably shouldn’t make him angry, either.
What’s to come?
The 2019 season was interesting for a multitude of reasons when it comes to Amir Garrett. As noted above, the strikeout rate and ground ball rate jumped up to near elite levels. But his walk rate was also at the opposite end of that, elite in a bad kind of way. His splits were also very extreme in 2019, at least when it comes to first half and second half. Let’s take a quick look at that:
It may or may not at all be related to the lat injury that he suffered in early July. That injury ended his first half and when he came back, the numbers simply weren’t as good. Perhaps that was just things catching up – the home run rate went up significantly, the walk rate jumped up, and the strikeout rate dropped off to the level it had been the year prior.
For the 2020 season there may be something outside of Amir Garrett’s control that has a lot to do with how his season could play out: The Baseball. As we’ve talked about, his ground ball rate jumped up big time in 2019. If he can repeat that again in 2020, and the baseball returns to normal, his home run rate could drop off big time. That could really do some wonders for his ERA. The walk rate will still be something that is worth keeping an eye on, though – as where it was in both the first and second halves of 2019 was quite a bit higher than you’d like to see it.