If there’s one rumor that just won’t die this winter, it’s the Cubs potentially trading for Matt Garza. He is quickly becoming their white whale, or, if we want to bring it back to baseball, Jim Hendry’s version of Erubiel Durazo. Despite having a pretty full rotation, the Cubs are clearly enamored with what Garza brings to the table, to the point that they’re willing to make a brutal deal to acquire him. But I’d like to suggest that if they really wanted a pitcher with this skillset, they could have just signed Aaron Harang as a free agent this winter and gotten the same thing.
Over the last three seasons, here are their respective lines:
Garza: 3.05 BB/9, 7.1 K/9, 1.09 HR/9, 38.9% GB%, 4.39 xFIP
Harang: 2.57 BB/9, 7.4 K/9, 1.47 HR/9, 35.1% GB%, 4.21 xFIP
Because they’ve been in different leagues, we have to adjust the numbers to compensate a bit. For starters who threw 450 innings over the last three years, the BB/9 was 0.25 higher and the K/9 was 0.33 higher in the NL, as the intentional walks to the eighth hitters and the strikeouts by the pitchers skew the numbers a bit. If we relate these guys as relative to average for their respective league, we get this.
Garza: -15% BB/9, +3% K/9, -10% HR/9, -6% xFIP
Harang: +12% BB/9, +3% K/9, -60% HR/9, -5% xFIP
Harang and Garza are the same general type of pitcher: four-seam fastball guys who pitch up in the zone to get strikeouts at the risk of giving up home runs. Neither has a dominant out-pitch, so their strikeout rates aren’t elite, but they miss enough bats to compensate for the excessive amounts of balls in the air.
Harang has been bitten by 12.4 percent of his flyballs going over the fence, compared to 9.6 percent for Garza, which is the main driver of difference in their ERAs. Considering that there is little evidence that this is a significant skill that pitchers have (and Harang’s 2005-2007 HR/FB is basically equal to Garza’s 2008-2010), it’s not something you’d want to project a large gap on for 2011. That’s why, by xFIP, Harang has been a hair better over the last three years.
Garza is younger, he throws harder, and he’s posted significantly better ERAs over the last several years in the more challenging league, so I understand why the perception of a large gap is there. But the reality is that these two are similar pitchers, and while one of them signed a one year, $4 million contract as a free agent this winter, the other is apparently going to cost a king’s ransom to acquire in trade, and then will earn more than that through arbitration anyway.
If the Cubs look at Garza’s ERA and think he’s a potential ace in the NL, they’re mistaken. He’s a valuable innings eater, but he’s not a front line starter, and there were much cheaper, easier ways to acquire this kind of pitcher this winter without punting a big part of the farm system.