Let Amir Garrett Play!

The Reds’ reliever is dominant, fun, and exactly what’s right about baseball.
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For some time now, I’ve wanted to write about Reds reliever Amir Garrett in the digital pages of this fine publication. If you were watching Tuesday’s game against the Brewers, you saw a concise, one-inning microcosm of why I think Garrett is one of the most likable players on this Cincinnati club: He’s (A) dominant and (B) fun.

 

Garrett struck out the side in the 10th inning of Cincinnati’s thrilling walk-off victory over Milwaukee, and nearly every pitch he threw was filthy. His slider, in particular, was unhittable, as Brewer hitters were flailing everywhere in a futile attempt to make contact. And not only was he great in actual game action, his personality shone through as it often does. Check out this little interaction with Joey Votto.

Unfortunately, there’s another reason I finally got around to tackling Garrett this week. (Not literally, of course; he’d destroy me, though good-naturedly.) When the rosters for the National League All-Star team were announced, starting pitcher Luis Castillo was the only representative selected to represent the Cincinnati Reds. That night, Garrett had one question, which he relayed in a tweet: “What does it take to be an allstar? Lol asking for a friend…”

Garrett has since deleted that tweet, but it’s a great question. What does it take to be an All-Star? And why was Garrett snubbed this year?

Let’s begin by noting that All-Star appearances aren’t just something for people like me to obsess over in our spare time; Garrett really wanted to make the team. He admitted as much to the Enquirer’s Bobby Nightengale a few weeks ago:

“I’m not afraid to say it. I speak freely. I want to be in the All-Star Game. That’s my top goal for me. That’s what I wanted this year. If it works out, it works out. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I’m still going to do my thing and I’m going to prove to everybody I’m one of the best in baseball as a middle reliever.

Certainly, it’s difficult for a non-closer to be selected to an All-Star team in any season, but Garrett had an excellent case for inclusion this year. He has appeared in more games than all but two relievers in the NL, and his ERA of 1.70 is second-best among relievers who have thrown at least 35 innings. As Nick Carrington noted over at Redleg Nation, Garrett’s strikeout rate and groundball rate are both way up this season, and that’s a recipe for success at Great American Ball Park.

Permit me to geek out for a moment. A quick look at the Statcast data demonstrates why Garrett has been so successful in 2019. Only two pitchers in the National League have been more successful at limiting “barrels” (essentially, hard-hit balls). The expected slugging percentage of hitters against Garrett, based on how hard they hit the ball, is .261; that’s in the top 1% of pitchers in either league. Opponents’ expected batting average of .189 is in the top 5% in the majors. Average exit velocity against Garrett is 85.7, also among the best in the league.

I know, I know: Get your head out of the spreadsheet, nerd. But those numbers confirm what we’ve seen with our eyes over the last three months. Garrett’s slider is straight unhittable, and his fastball runs into the high-90s with a sinking action that causes hitters to pound the ball into the ground. The advanced numbers and the old-school numbers agree. In short, he’s been one of the elite relievers in baseball this season.

Alas, All-Star teams are not awarded based on Statcast data, and Garrett hasn’t recorded a single save, a ludicrous statistic that’s blinded so many to what makes an effective reliever. The player voting determined the three relievers who would make the All-Star team, and the players chose San Francisco’s Will Smith (21 saves), San Diego’s Kirby Yates (27), and Milwaukee’s Josh Hader (20). All are deserving All-Stars, so it’s hard to complain, but there’s only one thing that really differentiates their performance from Garrett’s: saves.

Los Angeles skipper Dave Roberts, who will manage the National League All-Stars this year, could have chosen additional relievers when he filled out the roster, but he did not. So, unless there is an injury, Garrett will be forced to wait until next year to make his debut in the Midsummer Classic.

Clearly, a case can be made that Garrett deserved to be on the All-Star team based on his performance, which is what I have tried to do here. But there’s so much more to this kid—he’s exactly the type of player that Major League Baseball should want to showcase on the national stage.

A former big-time college basketball player (if you can still call St. John’s a big-time program these days) and elite Fortnite assassin (seriously, watch this clip), Garrett has joined with teammate Jesse Winker to form a comedy duo unlike any we’ve ever seen in Cincinnati. Their conversations with Fox Sports Ohio’s Jim Day on his podcast are hilarious. Garrett also carries his fun-loving attitude onto the field, as he is well-known for having fun on the mound, pumping his fist and enjoying his status as a shut-down reliever.

As MLB is trying to engage younger fans, Garrett should be promoted everywhere you look. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s been completely dominant on the mound, in addition to being so much fun. He’s what is right about baseball, and one of the most exciting pieces of the Reds’ future.

So let the kid play, MLB. Find some way to get Amir Garrett onto the National League All-Star team. We appreciate him here in the Queen City, but it’s time to let the world in on the secret.

Chad Dotson authors Reds coverage at Cincinnati Magazine and hosts a long-running Reds podcast, Redleg Nation Radio. He wrote about the 1970s Reds as part of the magazine’s “10 Events That Shaped Cincinnati” package. His first book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds, is available in bookstores and online.

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