Jaime Garcia, aka The Road Warrior

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A lot of ink, both digital and traditional, has been spilled on the subject of Jaime Garcia's struggles on the road. And with good cause, really; the discrepancy in Jaime's performance at home versus what he does away from Busch Stadium is, well, large enough it stretches the definition of discrepancy a hair. Usually for something like this you want to employ a word more like...gulf. Yes. Gulf is good. 

But you know what? The last two road starts for Jaime have been different. Encouraging. Downright solid, in fact. Even better than solid, really, when it comes right down to it. So does this mean Jaime has finally beaten his bugaboos in away games? Or is he just waiting to break our hearts at the worst possible time? Or maybe, just maybe, it wasn't quite as bad as it looked for Jaime all along. 

(Or maybe it was.) 

On the 15th of September, Garcia started in Los Angeles against the Dodgers, a game the Cardinals would ultimately go on to lose. It wasn't Jaime's fault, though; he did his job to the tune of a six inning, two run outing (with only three hits allowed, as a matter of fact). Unfortunately, the bullpen didn't do nearly so well in that game and the Cards went down 4-3. 

Last night, Jaime was even better, shutting the Houston Astros out over seven strong innings, allowing just six hits and not walking a batter. Sure, it was the Astros, not exactly the toughest competition in the league this year, but quality is quality, and what Jaime Omar did last night was quality. 

That's two strong road starts in a row, just at a time when plenty of fans were beginning to question whether Jaime should even make his starts when they fall on away dates. Those two starts dropped his ERA on the road in 2012 to a still-not-so-inspiring 5.02. It's a far cry from his 2.83 home ERA, but it's certainly better than it was a few weeks back. 

I'm tempted to write off a lot of the hand-wringing over Jaime's road issues to false narrative hand-wringing, but every single peripheral he's put up this year is notably worse on the road than at home. His K/BB at home in 2012 is 4.27; on the road it's 2.50. (Which isn't really awful, but is definitely not in range with his home number.) Both his raw strikeout and walk rates are worse on the road. His BABIP is actually higher at home, meaning he's been luckier on batted balls away, but his WHIP is nonetheless higher, 1.48 versus 1.28. 

Here's the thing, though: overall, it isn't as if Jaime has been nearly as bad on the road as his results would indicate. The chief difference between Jaime and home and Jaime on the road is the home runs. Garcia has yet to allow a single home run at Busch Stadium this season in 58 innings, which is, frankly, kind of absurd. By contrast, he's allowed 7 home runs in 72 innings on the road, which is maybe a tad high, but not outrageous. 

The FIP discrepancy is just as large as the ERA; Jaime's FIP at home this year is a remarkable 1.98. On the road, it's 4.01. But -- and here's the rub -- Jaime's xFIP (which normalizes home run rate, attempting to take out any odd luck on fly balls), is much, much closer. His home xFIP is 3.11. His away xFIP is 3.76. In other words, if you assume neutral luck on fly balls leaving the park for Garcia this year, all of a sudden his performances at home and on the road aren't separated by quite such a gulf. So maybe not all of the concern over Jaime's splits are false narratives cooked up by sportswriters (such as yours truly), to try and explain away random variation, but it looks like a big portion of it very well may be. 

Then again, I can't say I feel great about Jaime pitching on the road even now, after a couple of nice starts and looking at the numbers. Things just seem to go...wrong on the road for Garcia. At home he gets out of big innings. On the road he gives up three consecutive hits with two outs. I would like to believe in the numbers alone and say there's really not much difference in Jaime Garcia at home or on the road, but I just can't quite bring myself to do it. 

But hey, I'll take whatever I can get, and two strong road starts for Jaime in a row is definitely encouraging. I certainly feel better today than I did yesterday, and that's really all you can ask for I suppose. 
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