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July 23, 2013

Transaction Analysis

Garza's Trip

by Jason Parks, Jason Cole and Sam Miller


IN THIS ISSUE

American League
National League

TEXAS RANGERS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Acquired RHP Matt Garza from the Cubs for 3B-R Mike Olt, RHP Justin Grimm, RHP C.J. Edwards, and two players to be named later. [7/22]

So many pitchers go bad that it sometimes feels like every pitcher contract is a toxic asset. But, particularly for pitchers at a certain talent level, the better metaphor might be a house: there are years when it’s worth a lot, and years when it’s not worth much, but the only day that really matters is the day you sell.

A year ago, Garza’s value was in the dumps, as he had fluid buildup in his triceps and hit the disabled list just as the deadline approached. Teams reportedly still had interest in him, but the Cubs didn’t want to take a loss on their investment. Garza ended up missing the rest of the season, and nearly two months of this one, and had a 6.26 ERA after getting bombed for nine runs in his fifth start this season. But just as my house is worth 35 percent more this year than it was last year, Garza’s value came back in almost no time at all.

Garza has made 11 starts this year, and answered just about every question you might have. After two wild starts—with a 58 percent strike rate, which would be the second-worst in the league—he regained his chi and has walked just 13 batters in 64 innings since. He has worked deep into games, averaging 110 pitches per start over his past three. His whiff rate is down a tick this year, but literally just one tick—from 10 percent to nine percent, or about one fewer whiff per start. He has faced sturdy competition, with one of the league’s highest opponent’s TAv figures. He has the second-best FIP and the second-best FRA of his career.

One might be concerned that his fastballs, two- and four-seam both, are a mile per hour slower this year. Those four-seamers in particular are where the whiffs go missing, and it’s also where the groundballs go missing, and it’s also where the extra line drives are coming. But all times of year are not the same for a pitcher, and Garza’s velocity might be no concern at all. Limited to four-seamers:

Year

First 11 starts

12th+

2011

93.6 mph

94.9 mph

2012

94.1 mph

94.7 mph

2013

93.5 mph

So let’s presume that this is an accurate reading of a healthy, back-together Garza’s impact in Texas:

What’s a win or two worth in the era of second wild cards? Over the past five years, six teams have missed the playoffs by no more than two games, which would make a trade like this unlikely to end up mattering. But if we re-examine the final standings under the two-WC rules, we would find a great many more teams that had their title chance affected by a single game, or two games:

  • Seven teams would have missed the playoffs entirely by two games;
  • Eight teams would have lost their division by two games and been forced into the play-in game;
  • Five teams missed out having on the best record in the league by two games.

Not each of those rewards is equal, but that’s four teams per season who would have benefited from two extra wins. And, in real terms, two wins is a fair estimate for Garza. There are, of course, a lot of teams that have unfamiliar names in their starting rotation. The Rangers, though, might be the only one whose depth chart has just outright given up:

They’ll start getting healthy pitchers back before October, but they’ll add Garza when they arguably need him most. The Rangers currently have a 34 percent shot at the division and 25 percent shot at the wild card. If Garza starts Wednesday (as is the plan), and the Texas rotation holds, he'll make his first three starts against the Yankees (15 percent wild card chances), the Angels (a dark horse in the division, if you're the paranoid sort), and, the A's (65 percent division chances).

Sometimes a seller’s market can be a buyer’s market, too. The Cubs should be happy they sold him now, instead of a year ago. The Rangers are certainly happy they're buying him now, instead of a year ago. - Sam Miller

CHICAGO CUBS
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Acquired 3B-R Mike Olt, RHP Justin Grimm, RHP C.J. Edwards, and two players to be named later from the Rangers for RHP Matt Garza. [7/22]

Olt is having a strange season, and his Triple-A numbers this year can’t be taken at face value. The 24-year-old slugger clearly wasn’t himself in April, when he hit .139/.235/.236 with a near-40 percent strikeout rate in 81 plate appearances. After complaining of blurred vision, Olt was placed on the disabled list and embarked on a month-long search for a diagnosis, visiting a number of eye doctors and specialists. The vision issues remained a mystery until late May, when a doctor diagnosed Olt with a malfunctioning tear duct in his right eye. At that time, Olt told me that he couldn’t pick up the spin on a baseball, and every time he blinked, “it was like blinking with sandpaper.”

While Olt has played better at Triple-A since returning, he hasn’t matched last season's form, when he crushed his way to the major leagues. He's hit for power, taken walks (14 percent), and whiffed plenty (30 percent), resulting in a .247/.353/.506 line in 187 plate appearances since his eye issue subsided. Even with those troubles behind him, scouts are down a tick on Olt this season, placing more role 5 grades than 6s. He still projects as an everyday player who will stick at third base and may benefit from a clean slate this trade provides. The former supplemental first-round pick could turn into an impact bat, hitting in the .240-.250 range with 20-25 home runs, a solid walk rate, a healthy amount of strikeouts, and solid-average defense at the hot corner.

Click here for video on Olt.

Profiling as a no. 4 starter with a mid-rotation ceiling, Grimm was pushed into the Rangers’ rotation earlier than anticipated this season due to the club’s injury woes. In an ideal situation, Texas would have let Grimm develop his arsenal at Triple-A until midseason before calling him up. Instead, the 24-year-old righty has started once this year in Triple-A and 17 times in the majors, logging 89 innings in Arlington. Despite being hittable, Grimm battled in the early going and turned in some strong starts. He has hit a wall over the last two months, however, and his ERA now sits at 6.37.

Grimm will be a better pitcher than his current numbers suggest, though the Cubs would be well-served to develop him in Triple-A for the time being. A fifth-round pick who signed for a well above-slot $825,000 bonus in 2010, Grimm has always flashed good stuff. His fastball sits low-90s and can reach 93-95 mph. His upper-70s curveball is a 60-grade (plus) pitch, and his low-80s changeup should be average with a bit more seasoning.

Even with his strong arsenal, Grimm's presently below-average fastball command and lifeless four-seamer will likely leave him hittable to some extent. The University of Georgia product has toyed with a promising two-seam fastball and short mid-80s slider––both of which have flashed in bursts and should help him miss barrels. He's been unable to nurture those two offerings in the results-driven major-league environment, but they will be key in how he develops. Grimm is a very strong bet to reach his no. 4 profile; he just isn’t there quite yet. - Jason Cole

Drafted in the 48th round of the 2011 draft, C.J. Edwards is a true rule 4 success story, from small-town obscurity to the secondary piece in a deal to land the top starting pitcher on the trade market. (And on that note: Chris Kemp, one of the rising stars in the amateur scouting world and the man responsible for finding and signing Edwards, take a bow.)

After signing for a luscious $50K, it didn’t take the slender righty long to prove he was more polished than the lacking name recognition suggested, as a combination of feel and stuff accompanied Edwards to the professional level. Standing a solid 6-foot-2 and weighing a flimsy ~160 lbs, Edwards has a fluid, whippy delivery and an easy ball release from the hand; his athleticism allows him to stay in his mechanics despite the immature build and awkward length. Right out of the gate Edwards was turning heads, working his fastball in the low-90s with comfort and flashing two promising secondary offerings. Despite making every effort to add weight, Edwards remains quite slim, but he has shown an ability to hold velocity with workload, and has seen the fastball tick up to the 92-95 range, showing the ability to touch even higher. The secondary stuff continues to flash above-average potential, with the curve showing a tight rotation and good depth, and the overall command of the offering is very mature. It’s not a monster pitch, and as with most curveballs, the success of the pitch is predicated on the fastball being located early and often—the curveball is a swing pitch and, if hitters stay back on the ball, they can track it because of the exaggerated break.

The changeup is another future 55 pitch, with good arm-speed deception from the long, loose action, and some arm-side fade. Like with the curveball, the changeup will play up when the fastball is sharp and finding its spots, and could eventually give Edwards three average or better pitches in the arsenal. Edwards could end up a solid no. 4 starter type, although the body and lack of a true plus secondary offering has some suggesting he would be a better long-term fit out of the bullpen, where the fastball could work in the plus-plus range and the lack of physicality could be marginalized over the course of a season. Regardless of the ceiling, Edwards has a very good chance to reach the major leagues some day, which is quite the accomplishment for a 48th-round pitcher from a small town in South Carolina, where he pitched in a bush league surrounded by grown men. For an idea of Edwards' makeup consider the following comments from an interview he did with Jason Cole:

Cole: Growing up where you did in South Carolina and playing against all these top amateur players, do you think that helped you in a way?

Edwards: Yeah, I can say that. But I also played bush league baseball. And that’s like grown men. They are yapping at you, they’re talking junk. They’re telling you this––saying you won’t be this. But at the end of the day, I go out there and handle my business, and they all say, ‘Hey man, you’ve got a good shot at being something special.’ I pretty much took what I learned from out there and brought it here. Because you never know when you’re going to get to a stadium and fans are going to be yapping at you. I’ll be used to that, while some other people wouldn’t. I think that is pretty much my advantage––playing with older guys and then coming here and playing with guys my same age.

Cole: Chris Kemp had mentioned the bush league thing to me before. Tell me a little bit about that. What is it exactly?

Edwards: Man, bush league––you hear a lot of people say, ‘That’s a bush-league play,’ or ‘That’s a bush-league this.’ I kind of take that as an offense. Because the bush league is nothing bad, as the way people put it. It’s just––it’s older people that you’re playing against. They had a great shot out of high school, and they go play somewhere. They probably didn’t have the grades, or they had the chance to play pro ball and they didn’t want to leave home. It’s nothing bad. It’s pretty much just another experience. A lot of my friends now are playing in that league. For a matter of fact, my little brother is out there. He’s trying to follow in my same footsteps. The day that I met Kemp––I think Kemp came when we were playing this team called the Black Sox. We were down like 16-4, and the coach was like, ‘Do you want to go pitch?’ My dad ran out there like, ‘No, no, no. He ain’t going out there. You are not going to go out there and pitch.’ I was like, ‘Come on, dad. I don’t even care if we win or lose.’ He was like, ‘Alright,’ and let me go out there. My uncle was the catcher. So after that, I ended up bringing us back and we ended up winning that game. I finished with, I think, 12 or 13 strikeouts, and I had two hits and an RBI. I think that’s when everything really changed––after that one game.

Click here for video on Edwards. - Jason Parks

Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here
Jason Cole is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Jason's other articles. You can contact Jason by clicking here
Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

Related Content:  Texas Rangers,  Chicago Cubs,  Trade Deadline

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