Jaime Garcia's Historic Start

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The first month of the season has certainly been a productive one for the Cardinals, as they currently stand at 14-7 and have a four-game lead over the second-place Cincinnati Reds. All in all, not a bad April. 

It's not all that surprising the Cardinals are playing this well; I'm not saying they're a 100+ win team, but coming into the season they were the consensus top team in the NL Central and one of the best clubs in the National League, period. What is a little surprising is how they're winning at the moment. This was a team supposedly built to outscore opponents with a powerful offense. So far, though, the offense has failed to show up in quite the way we expected; on the other hand, the pitching, and especially the starting rotation, has been absolutely brilliant. 

No one on the pitching side has been more surprising than Jaime Garcia, who came into camp slated for Memphis and limited innings and stands now at the end of April one of the best pitchers in all of baseball. (Well, for the moment, anyway.) 

So just how good has Garcia been compared to some of the other more notable young gun pitchers in Cardinal history? In his first month of starting at the big league level, Garcia has posted a 1.04 ERA, going 2-1 with a 17/9 K/BB ratio and 16 hits allowed in 26 innings pitched. Those are some pretty remarkable numbers, but what is even more impressive is the fact he's doing it right off the bat to open the season. His brief time with the big club in 2008 probably has something to do with his fearlessness, of course, but to see a pitcher dominate right out of the gate in his first season starting at the big league level at only 23 years old is beyond impressive. 

In order to put Jaime's number for his first month into some sort of context, I thought I would try to compare them to the numbers for some other pitchers in similar situations for the Cards. I used the first month each pitcher spent as a full-time starter; many of the names on this list popped up as relievers and part-timers earlier, but I've tried to make it at least somewhat apples to apples. 

Player

Age

Mo/Year

Games

Innings

W/L

ERA

K/BB

Opp. OPS

Jaime Garcia

23

April 2010

4

26.0

2-1

1.04

17/9

.455

Bud Smith

21

July 2001

3

20.0

2-0

2.25

13/6

.638

Rick Ankiel

19

Sept/Oct 1999

7 (3 GS)

22.0

0-1

2.86

30/4

.567

Joe Magrane

22

May 1987

6

43.0

3-0

2.30

24/13

.572

Steve Carlton

21

August 1966

5

29.1

2-2

3.07

13/11

.579

Bob Gibson

23

August 1959

6

44.2

0-4

3.63

26/24

.765

Dizzy Dean

22

May 1932

7 (5 GS)

42.1

3-3

4.68

22/18

.556


Now what can we conclude from these numbers? Clearly, Jaime Garcia is on a Hall of Fame career path. Well, sort of. He's had a better first month starting in the big leagues than Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, and Dizzy Dean, which has to count for something, right? Of course, his closest competition is Bud Smith, who threw a no-hitter and then just sort of rode off into the sunset. 

Honestly, there isn't a whole lot of solid information to be gleaned from such a small sampling, but what does stand out to me is how refined Garcia already is for his age. At 23, Gibson was still walking nearly as many as he struck out, and would continue to battle his control on and off until the mid-60s, when he suddenly became Bob F. Gibson and put together one of the greatest runs of sustained brilliance baseball has ever seen. Ditto Steve Carlton, though he got his walks under control by the time the 1967 season rolled around. Of course, Jaime also doesn't have quite the stuff of Gibby or Carlton, either, but still. 

One thing that should very quickly jump out at you is that K/BB for Ankiel. Thirty strikeouts against just seven walks. At nineteen years old. Sigh. 

Regardless of how Garcia's season ultimately turns out, he's off to an historically good beginning, even when placed against some of the finest names in Cardinal history. And with his combination of stuff, command, and maturity, I wouldn't be all that surprised if he kept it going. 

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