Matt Garza has improved his peripheral stats in the past two years, and would look great somewhere between Felix Hernandez and Jason Vargas in the Seattle Mariners starting rotation.
Matt Garza has always been an interesting pitcher. A mid-90s fastball and a good slider will make a guy interesting pretty quick, but Garza has also been fairly nomadic considering his age and repertoire. And he might be available again.
Garza will be 28 next year, and through parts of six seasons (four years of service time) he’s played for Minnesota, Tampa Bay, and the Chicago Cubs. He’s had some notable attitude problems, and has been a pretty good value for the team receiving him on both occasions that he’s been traded.
There was no greater value than last year though, where the Cubs traded a bunch of essentially redundant or overvalued parts for Garza, and Garza made a huge, tangible step forward peripherally.
You see, even though Garza has been a sub-four-ERA pitcher since 2007, he’s been something of a regression candidate each year, riding a high fly-ball percentage with a great defensive outfield in Tampa Bay and Minnesota to solid results, but results that may be hard to duplicate considering the process that helped to achieve them.
Then a trade to Chicago seemed like a death sentence, as Garza was giving up more homeruns in the two years that led up to 2011, and the north side of Chicago is hardly a place to go to stop giving up the long ball.
But what Garza did in 2011 was pretty remarkable. He left his high-value defense, and pitcher-nuetral confines, and improved not only his results, but vastly improved his peripherals in a significantly worse pitching environment. Garza went from about a 2.5 WAR pitcher to a 5 WAR pitcher, and was actually statistically unlucky.
Garza used to be a guy who threw his fastball more than 70 percent of the time. While his slider was rather effective, lack of use of it and his other secondary offerings made his variety, and the effectiveness of all pitches pretty lack-luster. In 2011 Garza threw his fastball only 53.4 percent of his pitches. Increased use of his slider, curveball, and changeup has led to more strikeouts (8.95 K/9 compared to 7.5 career average) and more ground balls (46.3 percent compared to 41 percent career average).
Conceptually at minimum, it makes sense that Garza would be better with increased use of his breaking balls and offspeed pitches, as they are designed to upset batter’s timing and induce ground balls and whiffs.
Essentially Garza has become what the Mariners hope Michael Pineda will become, and he’s got two more years of team control at what figure to be reasonable salaries. Garza is projected to make $8.7 million next year through arbitration.
The problem for the Mariners, is that while they may have been able to put up some smoke and mirrors and fool former Cubs general Jim Hendry into dealing Garza for value that wasn’t commensurate with his actual performance, the team has hire Theo Epstein, who is one of the most talent evaluators and value assessors in the game.
The Mariners will have to give up more value than they gave up acquiring Cliff Lee to acquire Garza. (well, duh)
The Mariners financial situation is a bit unknown to fans, however, if the team could afford to sign Prince Fielder and also acquire Garza, they may be able to include Justin Smoak in a trade for Garza. Also, the team reportedly took Francisco Martinez out of action in the Venezuelan winter league team he was playing on. Both positions represent relative needs for the Cubs, and maybe the Mariners could squeeze a failed prospect like Josh Vitters (who Martinez would be replacing) out of the Cubs as well.
What it really comes down to, is the risk tolerance of the two respective team’s general managers. Even though Garza was statistically unlucky last year, and actually produced worse results than he probably deserved to, Wrigley Field is hardly a place where pitchers are likely to repeat great performances year in and year out.
So what Theo Epstein will be weighing is how likely Garza is to retain his value pitching in Wrigley, and the Mariners must evaluate how it could be sustained or increased by pitching in Safeco Field.
If Epstein wants too much for Garza it isn’t a good idea to trade for him, but he’d make a ton of sense in the Mariners rotation.