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December 16, 2010

B-Warned

Matt Garza

by Brandon Warne

With the free-agent market starting to resemble Halloween candy displays the day after the holiday, it isn’t surprising to note that some general managers have started to look to the trade market to bolster their starting rotations. Among the names that have been bandied about publicly include Carlos Zambrano, Zack Greinke, and today’s subject of B-Warned, Matt Garza.

Garza’s meteoric rise to the major leagues started as a 2005 first-round draft pick by the Minnesota Twins out of Cal State Fresno. Garza signed two weeks later, and made his major-league debut just shy of 14 months later while becoming the first Twins pitcher to pitch at four levels in one season. Yet, as with even some of the most collegiately polished starting pitchers, Garza took his lumps at the big-league level that first season, posting a 5.76 ERA with an unsightly 1.70 WHIP. He was sent to Triple-A to begin the following season, and wouldn’t resurface until early July, but made 16 appearances (15 starts) while improving his ERA to 3.69 and his WHIP to a more palpable but still troubling 1.54.

What materialized that offseason, however, is still a bit baffling. Garza was surprisingly dealt to the Tampa Bay Rays amidst reports that he and the Twins coaching staff frequently clashed over pitch selection. Garza allegedly wanted to throw his fastball early and often in counts, while the Twins wanted him to mix his electric off-speed pitches in more often. It isn’t hard to see both sides of the story; Garza’s fastball averaged over 94 mph in Minnesota, and his heater and slider have both graded as well above-average offerings. Yet there Garza was, a 23-year-old former first-rounder already switching teams well before his first sniff of arbitration.

Garza’s pitch charts show a stark difference in his pitch selection upon arriving in Tampa. He never eclipsed the 63.3 percent mark of fastballs thrown while donning Twinstripes, whereas he’s yet to dip below 71.5 percent in the Sunshine State. Oddly enough, he’s lost about one full tick on his heater, which is part of what prompted this article.

For all the hype surrounding Garza, he isn’t exactly an unstoppable force on the mound. Aside from his ALCS wizardry, he’s posted a 3.97 regular-season ERA, with 7.1 K/9, 2.2 K/BB, and a 1.32 WHIP. Twice in the past three seasons he’s posted strikeout rates south of seven per nine innings, while his WHIP has basically plateaued. His K/9 last season of 6.6 ranked him 59th among qualified MLB starters, and was exceeded by mid-rotation talents including Kevin Slowey, Joe Blanton, and Chris Narveson.

Further assisting Garza in his years of pedestrian strikeout rates was the fact that his Rays squads were third and first in team Defensive Efficiency in 2010 and 2008, respectively. Both of those teams quelled opponents on exactly 71 percent of balls in play, which no doubt helped soothe his odd penchant for finding the bats that he missed in the season sandwiched within the two.

All of this leads to this question: What is likely to happen to Garza if he goes to the Chicago Cubs, the alleged front-runner for his services? The club ranked 26th in DE in 2010; like another rumored suitor, the Nationals, the Cubbies only converted 68 percent of balls in play into outs.

Needless to say, a club may want to think twice about dealing a king's ransom for a bull-headed fireballer with increasing line-drive rates, wildly inconsistent  strikeout rates, and a disdain for worm-burners. BP’s 10-year forecast is similarly lukewarm on Garza, forecasting him to settle in as a mid-to-upper 4.00 ERA starter while posting roughly a 2.0-2.5 WARP for the next six campaigns. Andrew Friedman would do well to deal him if and while the getting is good, but word to the wise for other general managers: don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Related Content:  Matt Garza

7 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Scott
(296)

I guess that I hadn't looked at Garza as anything beyond a mid-rotation guy since he went to the Rays anyway. Given the Twins' knack for developing pitchers, it seemed to me that they wouldn't waste their time on one that didn't really seem to want to pitch so much as throw. The Rays haven't done anything to curb that tendency.

I'd like to hope that someone can explain the difference to him in a way that will get his attention. Perhaps the prospect of being washed up and out of the league when he's 31 or so might convince him that actually learning to pitch might be to the benefit of his team AND his career.

Especially since I just dropped a 1st round draft pick on him in a fantasy league (of course, I got Billy Butler's bat in the deal too, so there's that going for me).

Dec 16, 2010 10:34 AM
rating: -1
 
Ogremace

I'll wait till his results match his apparent issues before writing him off. Keep in mind he's been pitching in the toughest league in the bigs for 3 years - the 3.86 ERA and 1.25 WHIP he's posted there is nothing to scoff at.

Not to mention that he's averaging 197 IP those 3 years and is only 26. Moving to the weaker NL central could offset the concerns of poor defense, especially for someone who doesn't rely much on groundballs for outs.

Dec 16, 2010 12:25 PM
rating: 0
 
Brandon R. Warne

That's sort of the point though; his results haven't matched his surroundings thus far, and any team looking to take him on should be cautious.

Dec 16, 2010 22:07 PM
rating: 0
 
Ogremace

I don't know what you mean by "surroundings." He's been a legit number 2 in the AL East for 3 years, even with a fluctuating K rate. The guy is good, and being in the AL East makes it really hard to carry the overrated tag. Where is he gonna go where he's less likely to continue slightly outperforming his peripherals? The guys ERA ha been about .2 runs lower than his SIERA, again in the hardest league. I'm not seeing the risk.

Dec 17, 2010 10:44 AM
rating: 1
 
onegameref

I think he would be a welcome addition to the Cubs but I dread the possibility that Hendry might package a few of their solid prospects for a stubborn yet talented soul. If they can get him on the cheap, then by all means do so. Maybe the Rays would like Fukudome in the deal; not that I want to trade him but the Cubs seem intent on sending him away. The Cubs could pay the freight and equalize the salaries. It might work out dollars wise if not sense wise.

Dec 16, 2010 13:36 PM
rating: 0
 
NYYanks826

There's no question he is going to get overpaid, probably significantly. He's one of the best pitchers available on the market, and there's clearly a high demand for him. If he winds up going to the Yankees, his salary could approach A.J. Burnett levels.

There are much worse options out there though. He's young, he's got no-hit type stuff at times, and he's been very consistent (aside from strikeout numbers) over the past three seasons.

In Garza, you know that at least for the next few years, you're gonna get a pitcher who will give you a high-3 ERA, a 1.25-1.30 WHIP, nearly 200 innings, and at least 150 K's. That could be worth a 4-5 year, $50-$60 mil. contract.

Dec 16, 2010 13:57 PM
rating: -1
 
Brandon R. Warne

He's not a free agent or anything, though.

Dec 16, 2010 22:08 PM
rating: 0
 
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B-Warned: Adam Dunn (12/02)
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Ahead in the Count: Ho... (12/16)

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