D’Backs Sign Garland. Why?

At the beginning of the off-season, the Arizona Diamondbacks reportedly offered Randy Johnson a contract for 2009 that would have paid him around $4 million or so. Realizing that it was a low-ball offer, he decided to pass, and the D’Backs told him to go find another employer. He ended up signing for $8 million to pitch for the SF Giants because he wanted to stay in the NL West and pitch close to his home in Arizona.

So, allow me to scratch my head and wonder why on earth the D’Backs would then turn around and guarantee that they’ll pay at least $8.75 million for Jon Garland. If you can figure out something that Garland is better at than the Big Unit, I’d love to know what it is.

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Garland posted a 4.76 FIP in 196 2/3 IP last year, which made him a 1.9 win pitcher. Since 2002, he’s been worth 19.4 wins, due to his durability and ability to throw strikes. Johnson posted a 3.76 FIP in 184 IP last year, which made him a 3.8 win pitcher. Since 2002, he’s been worth 34.9 wins, due to his awesomeness.

The highest FIP Johnson has ever posted, in his entire career, is 4.29. That was back in 1990, when he was still trying to figure out how to throw strikes in the big leagues. Since 1992, he’s posted a FIP over 4.00 just once, when it was 4.27 with the Yankees in 2006. He rebounded in 2007 with a 3.20 FIP, and was among the league leaders again last year. Jon Garland has never posted a FIP below 4.00. Ever. Only once, in 2005, did he post a FIP (4.24) that was lower than the worst of Johnson’s career. At his absolute best, Jon Garland is worse than Randy Johnson at his absolute worst.

Deciding that you want Jon Garland instead of Randy Johnson is a disastrous decision. Yes, Johnson is old, but he’s still an excellent major league pitcher. Garland is a #5 starter whose best skill is not getting hurt.

In a market where good pitchers are signing for bargain rates, the D’Backs just paid non-bargain rates for a bad pitcher. Congratulations, Arizona, you’ve officially screwed up your entire offseason.



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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


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GuyinNY
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GuyinNY

I think you’re grossly underrating the risk inherent in a pitcher Johnson’s age, both in terms of his skills declining and his potential inability to last the duration of the season. The Big Unit may have been a better pitcher last season, but a potential injury to him would expose the D-Backs’ relatively weak starting pitching depth. In the case of Garland, you’re getting a pretty sure bet for IP, both on a start to start basis as well as over the course of the season. For a team in contention, it’s one less headache when every little ailment could be the difference between watching the playoffs and participating in them.

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