Of all the My Guys thus far, I expect this to be the most contentious.
That makes sense - I mean, Jon Garland only pitched for the Rockies in one season in 2013, and only until July at that. Look, I’d be lying if I said part of my admiration for the right-hander didn’t partly come from my appreciation for his work as part of the Chicago White Sox rotation.
Debuting in the majors at the turn of the millennium, Garland proved to be an effective arm for a Sox team built on the strength of its rotation. In 2005, the year the White Sox won it all, Garland secured 18 wins and a 3.15 ERA among his 221 innings of work. It’s no surprise that he was an All-Star that season and was a quietly integral part of Chicago’s postseason run - his modest stats belie a consistent and strong performer. If you’ve got a lot of time on your hands, here’s Game 3 of that World Series, which Garland started:
Garland would be a part of the White Sox through the 2007 season before moving over to LA to play for the Angels. He’d only stay there for one season before departing on a team-a-year journey, going from the Angels to the Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Padres, and the Dodgers again. The righty struggled to find consistency during this period, only once posting an ERA below 4.00 (he was actually not bad at all for those 2010 Padres). After a tough 2011 season with the Dodgers, Garland decided to take a season off to hopefully regain his lost form.
In 2013, the Rockies were looking to stabilize their starting rotation. To that end, they signed Garland to bring some veteran, “been there” knowledge to the team. As the oldest member of the staff, maybe he’d be able to act as a mentor figure to up-and-comers Juan Nicasio and Tyler Chatwood while backing up rotation mainstays Jhoulys Chacín and Jorge De La Rosa.
At first, things went well enough. During the first month of the season, Garland consistently made it through six innings, allowing three or less earned runs in all but one start. There was real reason to believe that the 33-year-old would be a staple of a rotation trying to find its identity. He was forcing weak contact — 10 or more ground balls each start — and he never dropped below 60% of his pitches being strikes. He started the season 3-0 and had a 3.32 ERA on April 18th. It wasn’t Cy Young stuff, but maybe that year off had done the trick to turn our guy Garland back into a productive member of a major league pitching staff.
Unfortunately, the rest of the season would not be as positive an experience. An April 23rd start against the Atlanta Braves seemed to break something. Starting game two of a doubleheader, Garland was shelled for six runs in as many innings, allowing 10 total hits and walking four. Three of those hits were home runs. It was a devastating blow to a solid start of a season that saw Garland’s ERA explode from 3.32 to 4.68, and he was never able to recover from it.
May was a brutal month that saw the righty take some serious steps back. After never going less than six innings in April, Garland only pitched that many once in May, while his over five starts saw him pitch five innings each. He allowed at least three earned runs in each of his outings; there were less and less ground balls and more and more fly balls; batters were figuring him out quickly; and Garland was throwing more pitches despite lasting less time in each game. He saw his ERA skyrocket, topping out at 5.81 to close out the month.
This wasn’t going to be sustainable.
Of all the “My Guys” I’ve covered so far, Jon Garland probably found the least amount of success with the Rockies. The thing about him, though, is that in addition to being a core part of one of my favorite White Sox teams (they’re my AL team... don’t hate me!), Garland was also very upfront about his frustrations at his performance. In this interview, he discusses how frustrated he is by the continuous pitch count limits he runs into. Rather than blast the front office or his manager, though, Garland instead opts to call out his own performance and the adjustments he needs to make in order to be successful. It’s a small thing, but I always appreciated his honesty and willingness to wear his work on his sleeve. I was also convinced that he could be a big part of the 2013 Rockies after seeing his hot start, but unfortunately it was not to be.
Jon Garland isn’t the most exciting player the Rockies have signed, and he doesn’t have one obvious moment that propels him into “guy-”hood. Sometimes, though, you just find players that you really root for and want to will to success, and Garland was one of those for me. He was never able to find his 2005 form after leaving Chicago, but he tried his best, and for at least a couple weeks, he gave Rockies fans a reason to hope.
To me, that counts for something.