Jake Peavy Is Not Matt Garza, Might Be Better

On Monday, the Rangers gave up a pretty hefty haul to acquire the rights to Matt Garza. With so many teams out of the race not selling, the prices that the few teams giving up talent can charge is very high, and so despite Garza’s impending free agency, the Cubs did very well in their return for a few months of a good-not-great pitcher. With Garza off the market, the teams hunting for starting pitching will likely now turn their attention to Jake Peavy.

Peavy doesn’t have quite same reputation as Garza does, and he probably won’t command the same kind of return. But if we actually stop and compare the two, it’s hard to make a case that Garza was the jewel of the summer and Peavy is simply a fallback plan for those who missed out on the big prize. In fact, the evidence actually suggests that Peavy might just be the better acquisition.

Here are their numbers, side by side, since the start of the 2011 season.

Name IP BB% K% GB% HR/FB LOB% BABIP ERA- FIP- xFIP- WAR RA9-WAR
Matt Garza 372.2 7% 23% 45% 11% 73% 0.289 87 86 89 7.0 6.0
Jake Peavy 403.2 5% 22% 37% 10% 71% 0.289 93 84 93 8.9 7.2

Because both have been something less than healthy, we’re only looking at about two full seasons worth of data for both pitchers. Across the board, their numbers are pretty similar, and in most cases, Peavy actually has the edge, especially once you adjust for the fact that he’s been pitching in the league that uses a DH.

While Garza looks to have a pretty decent advantage by ERA (3.45 to 3.95, to be exact), this is actually a great example of why ERA is a flawed way to evaluate and project pitcher performance. A half a run gap, even after adjusting for the league context, looks like advantage Garza, but note the fact that Peavy’s ahead in RA9-WAR, not just the version based on FIP. This is the result of a drastic difference in the number of unearned runs allowed.

Over the last two seasons and change, Garza has allowed 143 “earned runs” and 21 “unearned runs” in 373 innings. Peavy has allowed 186 “earned runs” but only nine “unearned runs”, so when you look at the gap in RA instead of ERA, it shrinks from half a run down to less than a quarter of a run. Basically, ERA is telling you to ignore a significant chunk of the runs Garza has allowed, while holding almost every run Peavy has allowed against him.

This is silly. If you’re going to adjust runs allowed for defensive contributions, then factor in defensive contributions. Going half way and simply erasing some runs from the record books because someone — maybe even Garza himself — made an error at some point in the rally is hardly a good way of going about it. Tango already ranted about this aspect of ERA, but he’s right, and this is one reason why I always chuckle when people say that ERA measure “what actually happened”.

No, it doesn’t. It arbitrarily decides some runs count and others don’t, and it pretends to account for fielding while not actually accounting for fielding at all. Based on things we know are mostly pitching and very little fielding, Peavy and Garza are actually quite similar. Don’t buy into the mirage of a difference that ERA creates. That difference is due to a problem with ERA, not with Jake Peavy.

If we focus more on recent performance, the tide actually tilts even further in Peavy’s favor. Since the start of the 2012 season, Peavy’s numbers are superior across the board. If we focus on just this season, Peavy wins on everything that isn’t ERA. The fact that Peavy’s ERA is over 4.00 is going to drive his price down, but for teams that know ERA isn’t all that useful, there are a lot of reasons to think he might just outpitch Garza the rest of the year.

And then there’s the contracts. Garza’s a free agent at the end of the year, and because he was just traded, he can’t receive a qualifying offer, so he won’t have any draft pick compensation attached this off-season. He’s probably going to aim for something in the range of the Anibal Sanchez contract, I’d imagine, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if he got it. It’s going to take something like $15 million per year on a long term contract to have Garza pitching for your team in 2014.

Peavy, meanwhile, is already under contract for next season for $14.5 million. Essentially, for next year, Peavy and Garza will probably cost the same amount, except you don’t have to commit long term to Peavy, and he comes with the added bonus of potential qualifying offer status after 2014. If he stays healthy and pitches well over the next year and a half, whichever team acquires him could be in a position to either use the qualifying offer to get him at a discount or get a first round pick if he signs elsewhere.

Yes, Garza’s younger than Peavy, and he throws harder than Peavy, and his ERA is lower than Peavy, but he’s not really much better and he’s not going to be any cheaper. While the Rangers gave up a nice package to get a couple of months of Garza’s right arm and first crack at signing him, whoever acquires Peavy will get a similar pitcher without having to open up the checkbook to keep him around.

In a vacuum, I’d probably take Garza over Peavy — he doesn’t have the same platoon split, so I’d be a little more comfortable starting him in a playoff game against a line-up stacked with left-handed bats — but Major League Baseball is not a vacuum. Peavy is under control for an extra year at a more than fair price, and depending on how that year goes, he might offset some of the acquisition costs by returning a draft pick in the future. I don’t think the White Sox are going to get the same kind of package for Peavy as the Cubs did for Garza, as age, velocity, and ERA-based reputation still hold a lot of sway, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the team that ended up with Peavy turned out to be happier with their trade than Texas is with the Garza swap when all is said and done.

Given that it’s still an extreme seller’s market, I don’t know that anyone is likely to be a steal, but relative to what other pitchers are going for, Peavy might be the closest thing to a bargain this market has to offer.




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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.


60 Responses to “Jake Peavy Is Not Matt Garza, Might Be Better”

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  1. Carlos Danger, gaucho of love says:

    Mike Olt sucks.

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  2. JK says:

    The Garza fascination has always struck me as a bit odd. He is capable of throwing a great game at any time, but he is also a guy with a career FIP right around 4, who has a combined 2.4 fWAR in 2012-13.

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    • Swan Ronson says:

      Yes, if you narrow down his fWAR to the 2 seasons he was hurt, and, you know, not pitching, it was pretty bad. Of course the season before, when he was healthy and also pitching for the Cubs, his fWAR was 4.9, and might be a better indicator of his true value. To be fair, that’s also an outlier as it was the best of his career, but pointing to the fWAR of 2 seasons where a guy combined for less than 200 innings pitched doesn’t seem especially illuminating.

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    • vivaelpujols says:

      yeah he’s basically Edwin Jackson. Power fastball keeps him perenially overrated.

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      • eddiegaedel says:

        i’d argue Edwin Jackson is perennially underrated. He makes less money than Garza on a newer contract with basically the same stuff.

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  3. pedro says:

    Only one problem
    Peavy’s arm is time ticking bomb
    How many innings will he pitch till 2014 season end?

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    • Otter says:

      Peavy hasn’t had arm troubles in years. Garza has had more recent arm issues.

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      • AJ says:

        By “years,” you mean 1. And Peavy’s arm troubles were a thousand times worse than anything Garza has ever dealt with. Before last season, Peavy hadn’t cracked 112 innings since 2008!

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      • pedro says:

        He only threw 101, 107, 111 innings from 2009 to 2011 and could stay healty last season
        Then he got hurt this season again
        That’s the definition of injury prone

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    • Yinka Double Dare says:

      He’s already had the bizarro injury for the year, and it’s another thing that shouldn’t be a recurring issue. While he’s had weird injuries he’s actually had very few arm problems — I think his last actual arm problem was 5 or 6 years ago. Since then it’s been ankle tendon, detached lat, and most recently a rib fracture.

      If he stayed healthy as in 2012 in Oakland in 2014 he’d probably finish in the Cy Young top 5. That park is perfect for him.

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    • Phantom Stranger says:

      This is really the only question with Peavy. I have no doubt he is a better pitcher than Garza, with more upside at his peak. But Peavy’s arm could give out at any time, given his odd injury history.

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  4. Otter says:

    Peavy has done quite well on the South Side when healthy. I know a lot of people were predicting doom and gloom when they looked at his GB% and moving to the Cell, but he’s managed that well.

    It’s going to be interesting to see what the Sox get for Peavy. I’d actually think he’s worth more considering he’s signed next year at fair/good market value.

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  5. AJ says:

    If you could guarantee health for both, I’d take Peavy over Garza, but I worry about what will happen to Peavy once he’s no longer receiving regular sprinklings of Don Cooper’s fairy dust.

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  6. Steven says:

    What if I offer up Pitcher C, whose stats since 2011 are:

    IP /BB%/K% /GB%/HR/FB/LOB%/BABIP/ERA-/FIP-/xFIP-/WAR/RA9-WAR
    531.1/8% /23%/48%/13% /74% /0.295/98 /98 /90 /6.5/6.6

    Signed for 2014 at 11.25 mil, and a team option for 2015 at 13 mil.

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    • Adam says:

      After 3 years of declining velocity and effectiveness, and an ERA- of 121, I’m not sure Gallardo is that enticing to most teams. Personally, I thought he should have been moved last year when his value was at it’s highest.

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  7. LaLoosh says:

    it’s funny you saying that Peavy doesn’t have Garza’s reputation. I feel like it’s just the opposite. I’ve always considered Peavy an ace when healthy, Garza a #2.

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    • Ian R. says:

      Agreed. I guess recent success is a factor, but Peavy was one of the best pitchers in baseball early in his career, and he has a Cy Young Award in his trophy case.

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    • Kevin says:

      I think that after 3 consecutive years or more with injury struggles, you tend to get written off as “washed up,” even if you come back and show that you can still play. It’s not fair, but the author is right: perception significantly affects trade value.

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    • chuckb says:

      This was Peavy of 5 years ago.

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  8. Zigs says:

    I don’t know what a fair interval is here, but these stats seem cherry picked. I get that it probably relates to their last trade, but it still seems odd.

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    • chuckb says:

      He uses stats since 2011, since 2012, and this season.

      There are other years’ numbers you’d find more convincing?

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  9. Mike Y says:

    I get that Peavy being locked up for another year factors in. And I get that pure ERA can be deceiving. But how can anyone watch Garza and Peavy and conclude anything other than Garza is significantly better. That’s easy for me to say after watching him dominate the Yankees (admittedly a very inferior line-up)last night. But Garza is a big-game, fearless pitcher that you want as your #2 in October. Peavy is at best a decent #3.

    -14 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Aggie E says:

      He only has to be Texas’ #3 right now and if Harrison is back 100% by late August he is 3/4..

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    • Alexander Nevermind says:

      All this data is available so we don’t have to rely on our false memories of games watched and come to meaningless conclusions about who is or is not a “big-game, fearless pitcher.”

      +10 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Mike Y says:

        I’m all for “Moneyball” approach, but not by itself. In all honesty the number-crunching “data” comes from those who never played, are not scouts, or otherwise can’t get a feel for players by watching them. Why do you think teams rely heavily on what scouts say when they see the players play? I agree data is relevant, but so is watching the players and a scout’s point of view. You put them together and it provides the best analysis. It’s ridiculous to ignore the games themselves and simply crunch numbers when determining trade value, free agent value, or a player’s worth. Only Ivy League business types who never played the game, coached, scouted, etc. would do that (in part, because they don’t contribute anything otherwise).

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        • maguro says:

          Andrew Friedman was Ivy League business type. Just sayin’.

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        • Alexander Nevermind says:

          But saying you’ve watched them pitch, and concluding that only one is a “fearless, big-game pitcher” cannot be called analysis. It is creating a narrative without any substance.

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        • Mike Y says:

          maguro-good point. Although Friedman also played college baseball and is thought of as having a management style that relies heavily on his scouts.
          Alexander Nevermind-I’m not sure how anything you and I say is “creating a narrative.” Nor is what you and I say intended to be “analysis” of anything. We’re just fans giving our opinions. Most Also, I never said data doesn’t matter. You implied what we see is irrelevant. They both matter a lot, as every GM in baseball would tell you.

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        • That Guy says:

          “I’m not sure how anything… I say is “creating a narrative.”

          I’m shocked.

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        • Antonio Bananas says:

          Scouting is used to supplement. It’s “Teheran was working on secondary pitches and had a shitty 2012”. It’s “he’s slumping because his hips are flying open” . It’s not “objective data be damned, player A is better because of grit, big gaminess, and fearlessness”. Tony Campana has grit, but he is not a better outfielder than Justin Upton.

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        • Kevin says:

          The point of this website is not to set up a false dichotomy between “number-crunchers” and old-school scouts. Leave that to hollywood and the espn comments section please.It is to provide publicly available, statistically informed analysis of baseball.

          More to the point at hand, I think it is pretty safe to assume that professional baseball players can be expected to perform roughly at the same level, regardless of the situation. Statistical analysts have a term for abnormal performances in important games…it is called SMALL SAMPLE SIZE.

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        • Tom says:

          I think you’re on the wrong website, man.

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    • PG says:

      Funny, my primary memory of Garza is the 2008 ALDS where he wore earplugs to help stay focused, and then took them out and threw them on the ground after getting pounded. He looked the part of a guy that crumbles under pressure.

      But then, that was one game. And deciding whether or not he’s a “big-game” pitcher off of one game is ridiculous.

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  10. Aggie E says:

    As a Ranger fan i would not have wanted Peavy as the same package Texas paid for Garza. Also i am not sure that the extra year is that much of an advantage given Peavy’s injury history. Yes Garza will be a FA but at least Texas can see how it works out before determining whether they would be interested in bringing him back…

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    • MrMan says:

      As another Rangers fan….I’m very uncomfortable with how much they gave up. But I also recognize the purpose: they want to do everything possible to avoid missing the playoffs or ending 1 game away as they did last year.

      Garza fits that objective better than Peavy, I think. When on, he seems to currently offer more upside; especially his experience in playoffs and other big games.

      But man…if, as rumored, Neil Ramirez is the PTBNL…him along with Edwards, Grimm AND Olt? That’s 23 years of control of 4 potential players versus 7 or so starts. I sure hope we get the
      “on” Garza.

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      • That Guy says:

        Unless you were hoping that the Rangers could more for Olt’s top 20-ish prospect status this year, I wouldn’t be as concerned about giving him up (at all). My unsubstantiated opinion is that he’s got the AAAA stink on him already, and while live A arms are nice, they are far often far better put to use to acquire guys like Garza. Now, the Rangers just have to get Darvish and Harrison healthy and get past the A’s, or this trade will be something of a waste.

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  11. eddiegaedel says:

    I know 3 years is a lot of data but isn’t it kind of an arbitrary end point? If we look past the 3 years Peavey has had more major health issues and would be a huge risk for any team.

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    • chuckb says:

      You can’t seriously argue that data from pre-2011 is more relevant here than data from 2011-present.

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      • eddiegaedel says:

        i never said pre-2011 data was more relevant than the last 3 years.. I just don’t think it is wise to re-establish a base-line for a player with 3 years of data when we have 10 years of available data. Sure, more recent years weigh more when projecting players but injury history is relevant whether it happened a year ago, or five years ago.

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  12. Ed Nelson says:

    I’m from Chicago and watch the Cubs every chance I get and I can confirm some of Garza’s unearned runs are his own fault and that he is, in my opinion, overall a very poor fielder. The raw numbers bear that out. Since 2011 Peavy has 33 assists and 3 errors. Garza has 33 assists and 11 errors, so his propensity for accruing unearned runs may follow him around.

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  13. Alexander Nevermind says:

    Why doesn’t FG have RA/9 (not RA9-Wins) easily available?

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  14. Bret says:

    Picking an arbitrary date (the start of 2011) I think is a little strange especially for pitchers like Garza and Peavy since they have both had injuries in that time. I dont think that it is unfair to Garza, but I do think it is going back farther then necessary to predict who will be better for the rest of the season. Here is how I see it:

    1) Garza has been healthy since returning from his injury. Peavy on the other hand, has just returned from injury and has more of a history with injuries.
    2) Both have 12 starts this season, but Garza only has one in which he has given up more then 4 runs. Peavy on the other hand has 3 (and two came in his last three starts). Teams are looking for an SP who will keep them in the game.
    3) In those 12 starts, Garza has averaged almost half an inning more then Peavy.
    4) Garza is 2 years younger.
    5) While some teams might see Peavy’s extra year of control as a benefit, other teams (the Rangers for example) might not.
    6) MOST IMPORTANTLY: Garza’s velocity has gone up over the course of the season, while Peavy’s (already lower) has gone down.

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  15. Swan Ronson says:

    I think articles like this are missing one angle. There are a number of GM’s out there that don’t want a 15 million dollar commitment for 2014, be it Peavy or Garza. Yes, the draft pick return would be nice, but the fact remains that Peavy will never be a bargain at 15 million. He can certainly justify the price, but if his ceiling is going to be about a 15 million dollar pitcher, and his floor is going to be spending the season on the DL, I am certain there are GMs who don’t want to take the chance. So they would rather trade for Garza and simply not offer him a contract at the end of the year.

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    • chuckb says:

      If the GM doesn’t want Peavy’s contract beyond this season, they could surely trade him for something of value in the offseason. It’s not like he’d be worthless. A lot of teams would give up something of value for 1 year of Peavy, assuming he’s healthy.

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      • Swan Ronson says:

        That’s the point. The assumption of health/effectiveness. If either is not there, then the acquiring GM is on the hook for 15 million dollars. The point is not that Peavy is worthless, but that he is not a bargain, and has a very real chance of being overpriced, so the extra year at 15 isn’t necessarily a selling point and for many GM’s can be a negative. The article takes it on faith that this should be a positive, when in fact it may be a neutral or negative factor to many teams looking for a starter.

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    • Too Many Uptons says:

      I thought the rule had changed so that teams that trade for a Free Agent no longer get a compensatory pick?

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      • eddiegaedel says:

        Teams that trade for a free agent no longer get a compensatory pick if the player is in his last season. If his contract extends beyond the current season, I believe they will be eligible to get those picks.

        The fact that Peavy has longer on his contract is probably a benefit to him that I am surprised isn’t mentioned in this article.

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  16. Michael Scarn says:

    I think you’re brushing over the fact that Garza is 2.5 years younger too quickly. Given the usual caveats of pitchers are unpredictable, Garza is in his prime whereas Peavy is likely exiting his.

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  17. Mr Punch says:

    Being “a good pitcher when healthy” is worth very little if the guy isn’t healthy. Pitchers like Peavey (and, for example, Buchholz) may be the difference in August and September – or not – but in the longer run they mostly just get in the way of putting together a solid staff; their actual value is not only less than it would be if they were healthy, it’s less than the WAR they accrue because they are disruptive presences. Ultimately, IP is as important a pitching stat as any.

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  18. Frank Wren says:

    I got this.

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  19. sportsczar says:

    Peavy. Jake Peavy. P-e-a-v-y. Peavy. Jacob Edward Peavy. Peavy.

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  20. john says:

    jake peavy will be pitching at fenway park.

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  21. Ruki Motomiya says:

    Peavy is the better pitcher, and I’ve always thought of him as such, but he seems to attract injuries, be they freak or not, like a magnet. He seems the riskier of the two.

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  22. Feeding the Abscess says:

    Any concern that Peavy has increasingly become a fastball pitcher as he has aged, and thus lost velocity? Add up his 4 seam, 2 seam, and cutter usage, and he’s over 75% this season.

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