Freddy Garcia and the Value of Broken Starters

From 2001 to 2006, Freddy Garcia posted six consecutive seasons with 200 or more innings pitched, and while he wasn’t an ace, he was an above average durable starting pitcher. That skillset helped him earn about $45 million during his three arbitration seasons and the three years of free agency that the White Sox bought after acquiring him from Seattle. He was a valued asset for his durability and consistency.

Then, in 2007, his shoulder started hurting. He tried to pitch through it, but his performance suffered, and finally he underwent season ending shoulder surgery in August. As damaged goods, he was only able to land a minor league contract with the Tigers for 2008, and that began a pattern that continues to this day.

Garcia didn’t pitch much in 2008, so he entered the following off-season with health risks still looming. The Mets were the team to take a shot on him with a minor league deal this time round, but he didn’t make the club out of spring training and was lousy in a few Triple-A tune-ups, so they let him go at the end of April. He remained unemployed for six weeks, when the White Sox brought him back to Chicago with a minor league deal that also contained a $1 million team option for 2010. He gave them nine solid starts down the stretch, so they exercised the option and brought him back for the following season at a team friendly price.

After another decent but unspectacular year in 2010, Garcia once again had to sign a minor league contract for 2011, taking a non-guaranteed deal from the Yankees. He ended up giving them 147 innings with an ERA- of 86, the best results he’d gotten since his shoulder surgery. The Yankees rewarded him with a Major League contract for 2012, giving him a $4 million base salary. He predictably regressed after posting an ERA that was well below his FIP/xFIP in the prior year, and went back into the free agent bin this winter looking for another minor league deal with a chance to make a big league team out of spring training.

This time around, it’s going to be the Padres betting a non-guaranteed, low dollar contract on Freddy Garcia, as they’ll pay him a base salary of $1.3 million if he makes the team. And, given what we know about Garcia as a pitcher, there’s every reason to believe he’s going to just continue to be the perfectly acceptable rotation bargain that he’s been for the last four years.

Since returning from his shoulder injury in 2009, here’s Garcia’s total line:

Freddy Garcia 467 7% 16% 1.2 0.293 72% 103 102 103 5.8

And here are the averages for a starting pitcher over the last four years.

Average Starter 180 8% 18% 1.0 0.294 72% 103 102 103 2.0

In terms of rate stats, Garcia has been a pretty close match to the league averages. He walks a few less, strikes out a few less, and gives up a few more home runs, but he’s also pitched in some hitter friendly ballparks, so overall, his per inning performance has been pretty solid. He hasn’t exactly been Mr. Durability anymore, but he’s still averaged 117 innings per season, even while being unemployed for the first half of the 2009 season. You can’t count on him to make 30 starts, but you can pencil him in for 20 to 25 starts and a chance to be competitive when he takes the mound.

And yet, he just keeps getting ignored. If we assume that he’s hit most of his performance bonuses, teams have paid Garcia roughly $11 million over the last four years, and he’s produced +6 WAR during that time frame. That’s less than $2 million per win. The going price during that stretch has been more than double that rate, and that’s the guaranteed money rate. Garcia has had to earn his cash by staying on the field and pitching better than expected.

You can’t build a winning team around 25 Freddy Garcias, nor should anyone try. But, for a fifth starter, Garcia’s actually pretty decent, and a lot of teams are going to go into spring training with a worse pitcher penciled into their starting rotation. Garcia will probably outpitch most of them. Garcia will probably land on the DL at some point. And then Garcia will be a free agent next winter, and likely sign another minor league contract with an invite to spring training.

That’s the deal for a guy in his mid-30s who doesn’t fit the coveted “innings eater” mold that teams like from their back-end starters, even though he out-pitches most of them every year. There’s not a ton of upside with Freddy Garcia, but these kinds of somewhat-broken-but-still-effective starters remain one of the game’s best values. Rather than splurging on 200 bad innings, the Padres found a way to add 100 decent innings to their rotation. For $1 million and change, more teams should be looking for guys like Garcia to round out their rotation. It’s better to have decent for a while than bad for the whole year, even if Major League teams don’t seem like the uncertainty these types of pitchers provide.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

29 Responses to “Freddy Garcia and the Value of Broken Starters”

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  1. To-ga says:

    Who are some other examples of *broken* starters?

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  2. Andrew says:

    I don’t disagree that Freddy has some value as a back end, but I think there is also something to be said for his lack of upside. Because Freddy was a Yankee, we can stick with them as an example. If you are Cashman/Girardi, would you rather have Garcia or Nova as your 5th starter? While Garcia might end up having a better season, if he does, it will probably be a marginal improvement over what Nova can offer. The difference is that Nova has the chance to take a step forward. And that chance is why teams will ignore a Garcia and perhaps end up with worse production.

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    • DJG says:

      This. Dave does a good job of illustrating why a team might want to bring in a guy like Garcia, but I don’t think he adequately makes his case that they’re “one of the game’s best values.” His analysis is based on largely league averages, which is a bit spurious given that teams aren’t trying to maximize value over the entire league. A team might know full well that on average their back-end starters will be less valuable than a guy like Garcia, but the chance that they will be better might be a chance worth taking given Garcia’s likely limited upside.

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  3. MSpitz says:

    If you tried building a team around 25 Freddy Garcias, I’m afraid your hitting would suffer terribly

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  4. wobatus says:

    The Mets in 2009 went for both the innings eater and the broken starter as possible rotation depth solutions. They were rewarded with Livan Hernandez with a 5.47 era and Freddy Garcia unable to even get outs in Buffalo.

    Garcia then gets 1.6 WAR in 9 starts in the AL, and 2.2 in 2011. Hernandez gets 3 WAR in 2010 with Washington.

    Apropos of nothing really, but I recall thinking why are they signing these washed up guys but it seems like they were decent gambles that just didn’t work out for the 2009 Mets. Curses.

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  5. Marver says:

    “Rather than splurging on 200 bad innings, the Padres found a way to add 100 decent innings to their rotation.”

    I love how you phrase this as if the Padres will ever ‘splurge’ on any player, ever. There is no “instead of splurging” with that franchise since they do not splurge. As we sit here, the most TOTAL money the Padres have ever given to a new player in free agency is the $11.5 they gave Orlando Hudson, including his buyout.

    “For $1 million and change, more teams should be looking for guys like Garcia to round out their rotation.”

    This is also curiously phrased, as if the Padres have what should be considered a rounded rotation. Richard, Volquez, Marquis, Stults, Garcia is perhaps the most pathetic starting bunch in the game.

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    • Sean O'Neill says:

      If that were their rotation by the end of the year, it would indeed be rather laughable. It’s a good thing then that they have Casey Kelly, Joe Wieland, Robbie Erlin, Cory Luebke, and Andrew Cashner all of whom could start at some point in 2013.

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      • Marver says:

        Ah yes: two guys coming off TJ, one coming off thumb surgery and other arm problems, and another two coming off elbow soreness…and all five having about 300 combined major league innings. How could I have forgotten those guys?

        The rotation will be hard-pressed to accrue 6 WAR this season.

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    • Drew says:

      You are a ray of sunshine, Marver.

      I will not argue the rotation is weak. The young arms will also probably not contribute much this year, but it should give some hope for the future.

      Why are you so hung up on what the Padres have given players in FA? Padres have shown commitment with extensions for Maybin, Luebke, Quentin, and Street, but those don’t count since they weren’t signed in the open market?

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      • Marver says:

        Signing players in the open market is supplementing your current assets by using money. In other words, it’s adding to your roster straight out of the owner’s pocket. Extending guys you have — note, not even their best guys — is not adding to your roster.

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    • randplaty says:

      + Anthony Bass and Tim Stauffer who was also signed to a minor league deal.

      That’s a total of 12 pitchers aiming for 5 rotation spots. I’d say the Padres have a LOT of depth but no top end. I’d be willing to be the rotation gets at least 6 WAR.

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  6. Sufferers of Noesi & Beavan says:


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  7. Hurtlockertwo says:

    The Padres big off season move.

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  8. Voice of Reason says:

    The A”s have done the same thing not with broken starters but with journeymen minor leaguers. For example, Travis Blackley looked serviceable for a hundred innings last year; so did Guillermo Moscoso for about 100 innings the year previous. Maybe two guys who throw a serviceable 100 innings is the new 200-innings guy?

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  9. Brian says:

    Freddy pithed out of the bullpen often in 2012. He looked kinda used up.

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    • Pinstripe Wizard says:

      Freddy is just a bad fit for Yankee Stadium. Assuming he makes the Padres rotation, I’m going to assume (when healthy) he’s an above average starting pitcher this year. His home/road splits don’t make him look like Verlander on the road or anything, but I’m going to assume moving to the NL West will make him seem like a much better pitcher almost immediately. I know ERA is not a great stat, but he had a 5.36 at Yankee Stadium and a 6.48 ERA in Fenway in a total of 53.2 innings of work, which is half his innings. If you put half his innings next season in Petco and AT&T his ERA is 4.00 at the highest. He’ll look like a much better pitcher just due to ballparks and offenses he faces.

      Teams like the Padres can live with less talented rotations. If I was in their situation, I might seriously consider signing 5 Garcia-types for my rotation. Maybe it should be 10 for injury issues, but if you could sign your rotation for ~$10M, then you could use your limited resources to try and put a remotely competent offense on the field. You could offer Headley a competent contract (with a built-in hometown discount) and start building an actual team.

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      • Tanned Tom says:

        Yeah, “He’ll look like a much better pitcher just due to ballparks and offenses he faces.”, but he won’t be. But casual observers might be fooled. Sure looked washed up last year.

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  10. MikeS says:

    After tiring of one too many “The White Sox can’t find a fifth starter” arguments over the years, I asked somebody what exactly thy expected from a fifth stater. I was told that even a number five should get you 170 IP and 10 wins. Numbers in this neighborhood have been repeated to me over the years. So I did some research. Typically about 70 or 80 guys a year hit 170 innings and the same number get 10 wins. Leaving aside the validity of these stats, the casual fan (at least the casual fan I seem to argue with) expects a number five to be as good as a number three, or even a borderline two. Otherwise they feel the GM hasn’t done his job. Can anybody explain this disconnect to me?

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    • Jason B says:

      Totally agree. If you’re looking for 170 innings and 10 wins out of your fifth starter, you’re either (a) a fan of a team with a near-unlimited payroll, or (b) usually going to be disappointed. Sure it happens on occasion, but it usually doesn’t. That fifth spot is often something of a revolving door, where teams can try out a cheap FA acquisiton, or their up-and-coming youngster moving up from AAA, an established guy returning from surgery, etc.

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    • Yinka Double Dare says:

      Really though, the White Sox fifth starter spot for a few years running was way worse than even the low bar that there actually is for the fifth spot.

      Also, fans can get spoiled. They’ll remember the ’93 White Sox where the fifth starter was barely below an average AL starter by ERA and everyone else was considerably better than average, and think that should be closer to the baseline. And seasons like ’03 where they finished 2nd in the division with a ghastly 5th starter spot really stick in people’s craw.

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      • Nicarelli says:

        If Jose Quintana can repeat last years numbers pitching behind Sale Peavy Floyd and Danks, I would count it as spectacular. But I’d rather trade one of the back three for some offense, and hope my kids and maybe someone Garcia-esque can avoid double digit losses.

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  11. Dallas Braden says:

    What about me? Do I count as a broken starter? Am I worth a flier since I may not be ready until mid season? Mariners could use my help.

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  12. BurleighGrimes says:

    Chris Young — while much more brittle than sweaty Freddy — seems in this mold to me.

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