Acquiring Garza Could Be A Mistake

Last week, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reported that the Yankees appear more and more likely to acquire a starting pitcher at this years trade deadline and that Brian Cashman preferes Chicago Cubs right-handed starting pitcher Matt Garza over the field of trade candidates. Pleased with Matt Garza’s American League East pedigree, and concerned with the likes of Zack Greinke, Shaun Marcum, and Ryan Dempster making that transition, Yankee executives appear to have placed Garza near the top of their target list.

There is certainly a case for preferring Garza over similarly gifted pitchers. The 28-year-old has always had exceptional stuff going back to his days as a top prospect in the Minnesota Twins’ minor league system and through his early career in Tampa Bay. In four full seasons as a Major League starting pitcher, three in the American League East, Garza has pitched to a 3.72 ERA. Early career success aside, 2011 was really a watershed for Garza. His FIP, previously hovering well above 4.00 for most of his Major League career, dropped to 2.95. He struck out nearly a batter an inning and allowed just 0.64 home runs per nine innings. In 31 starts, Garza pitched to a 3.32 ERA – a career best.

Matt Garza was a different, better pitcher last season and anyone acquiring him in light of his 2011 success will pay for – and expect – similar success going forward. Garza is not an ace and will not sell like an ace. But neither will he sell like a third starter, a middled-aged pitcher capable of an ERA in the high 3s but nothing much better. Garza was overvalued heading to Chicago. The Cubs paid for a better pitcher than the pitcher we saw in Tampa Bay, as good as that guy was. If the Yankees were to take Garza off the Cubs hands this summer, they’d likely pay even more than that. Can we really be convinced that Garza has finally taken, once and for all, the steps needed to reach his potential?

In 10 starts this season, Matt Garza has a 4.10 ERA and 4.09 FIP, a far cry from the lowest figures of his career posted in 2011. Though certainly among his better early-season starts, Garza’s peripheral numbers are little better than they were back in 2009, when Garza went 8-12 with a 3.95 ERA for the Rays. Much of this is due to a high HR/FB ratio and that will likely correct itself. In truth, Garza is pitching better than he did in Tampa, but not nearly as well as he pitched last season. The difference lies in his ability to induce strikeouts. Last season, Garza threw his fastball dramatically less often, but more effectively, setting up his mid-90s heat with a mid-80s changeup and mowing batters down with a devastating slider. The changeup is back to pre-2011 levels now, the fastball and slider less effective. His swinging strike rate, which peaked at 11.2% last season, is down to 9.6% on the year. Batters, even in the NL Central, are making contact off his pitches more often. Half the progress he made in that department last season is not there in 2012.

Garza’s peripherals have always been inconsistent. The jumps we saw last season were dramatic, but no doubt aided by the league and division change Garza experienced, and to see some regression back to career levels is no surprise. We need go back not more than two years to see similar skill and performance growth prove unsustainable for this very same pitcher. After his strikeout rate sharply increased in 2009, from 6.24 to 8.38, and his xFIP saw a similar improvement, Garza struck out just 6.60 batters per nine in 2010. His xFIP shot back up to 4.31 from 4.14. At 26, much of his 2009 growth was gone and the Rays were willing to part with their gifted young starter.

If we are to believe Garza’s results from last season, we must recognize that many of the adjustments and improvements Garza made last season are missing this season, at 189 innings is not the end-all, be-all sample size of statistical analysis anyway, that Garza is quite inconsistent and that the difference between the Garza of 2007-2010 and the Garza of 2011 largely a matter of AL East vs. NL Central. If Garza’s progress last season was mostly the result of a league change, then we should not expect much of this progress to carry over in a switch back to the American League East. And while Garza was a solid pitcher in Tampa he was much the product of his surroundings. Pitching to a 3.7-4.0 ERA in front of the leagues best defenses is one thing. A similarly skilled pitcher in Yankee Stadium, in front of an old defense and an inconsistent outfield, is not going to have the same kind of success.

The Yankees may very well need to acquire a starting pitcher at the deadline and Garza is a good pitcher coming off an excellent season with AL East experience. That much is true. Expectations, nevertheless, need to be kept in check. Garza’s 2011 season so far appears to be the high watermark and his success in Tampa was in part the product of an excellent defense. Garza is a pitcher with a career xFIP above four who has pitched dramatically better in the National League. A good third starter? Sure. A top of the rotation anchor? I’m not sold.

11 thoughts on “Acquiring Garza Could Be A Mistake

  1. Michael

    Pass on Garza please. Theyd ask for a kings ransom bc he has several years of control left for a guy who is closer to being in between a 2 and 3 rather than a 1 or 2. In fact I think the Yankees should try to actually strengthen their farm system rather than deplete it for one player.

  2. TheOneWhoKnocks

    I like Garza.
    I think he’s definitely an improvement upon Nova or Hughes.

    However, I don’t think he’s an elite pitcher and I’m not willing to trade premier prospects and take up a significant chunk of next years payroll on a less than elite pitcher.
    If we have Garza on the books next year for around $13-14 mil that probably prevents us from going out and signing Hamels.

    If the Yanks could guarantee me it wouldn’t impact their pursuit of Hamels or that they aren’t going to make a run at Hamels, than maybe I could live with it-otherwise, I rather they just stick w the status quo.

    • T.O. Chris

      I don’t see anyway the Yankees make a run at Hamels with or without Garza. There is no way to re-sign Cano, ink Hamels, keep Granderson, and stay under 189 million. Even if they are 100% confident in a team that has Romine startingh at C, Gardner starting in CF, and two scrap heap guys starting in LF and RF they would have a hard time makingh 189 million with Hamels.

  3. Jason

    I disagree. Garza last year put up a 5.0 fWAR season which was 13th in baseball and right behind Matt Cain. It was 198 innings which is a reasonable sample size and while one can point to a move to the NL Central he is a different pitcher than he was in Tampa. In Tampa he would stubbornly pound the zone with his fastball but since last year has become more of a complete pitcher by mixing in significantly more offspeed offerings. By judiciously using his fastball he is better able to compliment it with his excellent slider. This year through 59 innings he has not deviated much from the excellence of last season as his xFIP is just a touch higher at 3.59. He has had extremely poor luck with fly balls and home runs and has caused him to have a few stinkers in his game logs. I think he is at least a strong #2 starter as that is what he would be for the Yankees behind CC Sabathia and would be worth acquiring with a significant prospect package.

    • T.O. Chris

      He may have had some bad luck on fly ball to HR ratio but overall he’s had very good luck on balls falling into play. Thus far into the year his BABIP is .255, and even so he still has a 4.10 ERA/4.09 FIP. Besides that his K/9 is down, his BB/9 is up (both of which should only get worse moving back to the AL East), and I highly doubt his HR issues are going to be helped by moving his home ball park to Yankee Stadium and facing the Red Sox multiple times per year. In fact his 1.21 HR/9 is almost identical to his 1.23 HR/9 in his final year in Tampa, a much better home ball park for pitchers than Yankee Stadium.

      Saying he is “AT LEAST a strong number 2″ is saying you believe he is actually an ace in some capacity, he has simply never proven this to be true. You are choosing to believe a sample size of 198 innings over a sample size of 784 innings in his career, I know which one I believe is more likely to represent his actual talent. I actually see Garza AT MOST as a weak number 2, and ideally a number 3 starter on a playoff rotation in the AL, I’ll pass on trading a huge package of the rest of our top prospects for him.

      • Jason

        Fair point, his BABIP is indeed favorable but do you place any stock in the fact that his pitching repertoire has changed since his last season in Tampa. His fastball is down to the 50s in percentage from when he was among the most fastball reliant pitchers in the game at the 70ish percentage.

  4. bornwithpinstripes

    go to philly and try and get lee, amaro may do it..

    • T.O. Chris

      Lee will be 34 in August, I’ll pass on once again trading our youth and future for someone in their mid to late 30′s.

      • bornwithpinstripes

        true i agree, but i would like to get back to the w.s. this year , we will not without a proven pressure pitcher, C.C. is not the guy,, cashman manages to trade away talent, or trade for a wing and a prayer guy..he traded montero, he could have thrown nunez in for that trade and we would have gone to w.s. not texas, and who know maybe he would have stayed in n.y. i would like to win now, not keep waiting for cash’s project to come around.. trade now and win now..why he passed on wilson is mind boggling, sign freddie 4mil, kuroded for 10 mil..14mil, they both stink..could have put that money to wilson

  5. Willie Mays Hayes

    Don’t get how Marcum gets thrown into that list…..seems like baseless speculation since he HAS had success in the AL East, where he has spent the large majority of his career.

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