It’s safe to say there’s general acceptance that using a small sample in data sets has the potential to result in spurious correlations or unreliable conclusions. Yet every Spring, there’s a long list of reclamation projects who will no doubt be judged on a very small sample size of data. Just ask Kelvim Escobar who found himself looking for a new team after two-thirds of a Spring inning, perhaps setting a new standard for small sample size decisions. There’s just not a lot of time for pitchers to demonstrate they can rediscover their velocity, recapture their control, or that they have discovered the fountain of youth. I’m sure Jon Garland can relate.
Garland hasn’t been himself since 2010. He pitched in 2011, but was pitching hurt. He had surgery on not only his rotator cuff but also the labrum and bursa some 22 months ago, and is now apparently throwing pain free. For this, Garland will get somewhere on the order of 25 innings to prove to the Seattle Mariners that he is, indeed, himself again. Whether this is fair or not is left to the baseball gods.
Garland has never been particularly flashy. When he was good he was a 3+ win pitcher, a level he hasn’t been at since 2007. Never known for missing many bats, Garland relied mostly on spotting an 89 mph fastball, and complementing it with a decent sinker, a decent curve, and sometimes very good change. More recently in his career, he was producing a good deal of ground balls (52% in 2010) and his overall body of work was that of a classic innings-eater that gave you an occasional gem and occasional indigestion. Looking at his Spring stats to date, he’s working with an 89 mph fastball, using a decent sinker and a decent curve. Poof, Jon Garland is back.
A reasonable question to ask is whether Jon Garland being himself again is useful to the Seattle Mariners. His presence probably says more about their confidence in the health or performance of the likes of Hisashi Iwakuma, Erasmo Ramirez, and to a much greater degree Blake Beavan. And if the Mariners are going to use this Spring to see whether they like Jon Garland over Blake Beavan, well, then let’s just take a look at how that’s shaping up.
Right now, Jon Garland has a whopping six innings pitched. He’s given up five hits, one earned run, walked four, and struck out one. He has a 1.50 ERA over three games started. Blake Beavan has a 5.63 ERA over eight innings pitched. He’s given up 10 hits, five earned runs, surrendering three home runs while striking out an uncharacteristically high seven batters. So Jon Garland can’t find the strike zone and Blake Beavan is turning into Nolan Ryan. Watch for a freezing hell.
Over 152 innings pitched in 2012, Blake Beavan was essentially a replacement level pitcher so it’s understandable the Mariners might go mining for an upgrade, however small it might be. He is just 24, so there’s a possibility he could improve, but the very best Blake Beavan probably looks like an average Jon Garland. Garland is still just 33, so it’s not out of the question that he could regain his form and give the Mariners 200 innings at about two wins above replacement, but that’s probably optimistic.
But this is the kind of battle that Spring gives us. It’s Scott Kazmir versus Carlos Carrasco versus Daisuke Matsuzaka. It’s Kevin Slowey versus Wade LeBlanc versus John Maine. It’s Jon Garland versus Blake Beavan versus Jeremy Bonderman. It’s nonsensical to pit them against each other over the course of a month, but it is nonetheless what’s going to happen. The part of me that appreciates the beauty of the haphazard really enjoys watching it play out. And the old man in me can’t help but root for Jon Garland.