Will The Chief Help The Yanks?

Thirty-six-year old Freddy Garcia signed a minor-league contract with the Yankees and will try to make the starting rotation out of spring training. Garcia is clearly in the twilight of his career. His velocity is declining, his strikeouts are falling, and walks are rising. How much longer can The Chief keep his head above water?

Garcia has had a solid, but injury riddled career. He has 133 career wins, a 4.13 career ERA, and 31.5 career WAR. His most similar pitchers through age 35 are Chris Carpenter and Bartolo Colon. Fittingly, Colon will also be competing for a Yankee rotation spot this spring. Last year with the White Sox, Garcia posted a 4.59 xFIP in 157 innings, good for 1.3 WAR. Nothing spectacular, but not as bad as his 4.64 ERA would suggest.

Like most aging pitchers, Garcia’s velocity is fading. His average fastball speed has dropped by two miles per hour since 2008: 89.6, 88.3, 87.6. While Garcia has never been a pitcher who relied on throwing gas, he has only posted two positive wFB/C scores since 2002, he still has to adapt to his aging skill set in order to survive in the majors.

It appears as if Garcia realized his fastball is gone. Last season, only 30 percent of Garcia’s pitches were fastballs, the least amount in his career. Even two years ago, Garcia threw 43 percent fastballs. He is changing his approach and relying more on changing speeds and breaking pitches. Garcia’s change-up percent went from 13 percent in 2009 to 23 percent last year. He also had an uptick in use of his curveball and split-fingered fastball in 2010.

While it looks like Garcia has accepted that his fastball is gone, the strategy change has a major problem. He’s not fooling anyone. Batters are swinging at about 45 percent of Garcia’s pitches, which is directly in line with his career average. However, batters made contact 83 percent of the time, the highest percentage of Garcia’s career.

What is even more troubling is how hittable Garcia has become outside of the strike zone. His career average for contact outside the strike zone is 50 percent. Last year, Garcia’s O-contact percentage was an absurd 72 percent. While he threw a lot more off-speed pitches last year, he just was not getting the ball by anyone.

Garcia has proven crafty enough to be above replacement level into his late 30’s. However, his changeup is his last pitch with positive value, and unless he can reverse some troubling trends, it is unlikely that the Yankees will get much value out of Garcia.

Maybe The Chief has a few more tricks up his sleeve. Maybe he can rediscover the slider that brought him some value in 2009, or develop a better curveball. If he does not, Garcia’s career slide will continue, and the odds are that he will produce some replacement-level innings in 2010. That is, when he is not on the disabled list.



Print This Post



Jesse has been writing for FanGraphs since 2010. He is the director of Consumer Insights at GroupM Next, the innovation unit of GroupM, the world’s largest global media investment management operation. Follow him on Twitter @jesseberger.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Matt
Guest
Matt
5 years 6 months ago

Just a minor nitpick really, but you say, “Garcia posted a 4.59 xFIP in 157 innings, good for 1.3 WAR. Nothing spectacular, but not as bad as his 4.64 ERA would suggest.”

And actually, that’s pretty much exactly what it suggests. He let up 81 earned runs in 157 innings for his 4.64era, if he let up 80 earned runs over the 157 innings that would give him an era of 4.59, matching his xFIP. So we’re talking about the difference of 1 earned run over an entire season – not enough for me to really think that xFIP paints a picture of him being a victim of poor luck and therefore stands to benefit from positive regression.

Then you add in the fact that is FIP was 4.77, and I really don’t see his ERA misleading anyone into thinking he’s worse than he is.

phoenix2042
Member
Member
phoenix2042
5 years 6 months ago

but at least he’s better than sergio mitre!

pft
Guest
pft
5 years 6 months ago

If he can average 6 IP and give up only 3-4 runs, with the Yankees bullpen and offense, that is good enough to win more than 50% of their games with him on the mound (which is all you need from your 4-5 starters on the mound)

bcp33bosox
Guest
bcp33bosox
5 years 6 months ago

pft, yeah, you could be right as a similar year to his 2010 could bring value to the Yankees, maybe even more so than it did the White Sox with the Yankees bullpen and offense as you mentioned. After reading Paul Swydan’s post last week on the Yankees 5th starters (very little WAR the last few years) and considering their other options currently on the roster, this *could* be a good move, especially considering it is low cost.

However, he is another year older and the fact that his “strategy change” was not really fooling anyone, as Jesse pointed out, leads me to believe he could get hit even harder this year. On top of that, moving to the AL East and playing in NYY’s bandbox of a stadium assumably won’t help his performance (HR/FB, HR/9, etc.), though Cellular is probably just as bad (actually last year Cellular was 1st worst for HRs but 4th in total runs, NYY Stadium was 3rd and 2nd respectively), but the point is it most likely won’t help him.

Sure anything can happen and the Yankees have won despite having poor back ends in the past, but 2011 looks to be awfully competitive in the AL East. I think the Yankees were as surprised as anyone, maybe even more so that they did not get Cliff Lee. I guess they did not want to go after Joe Blanton, who might have been a decent fit and was rumored on the block because they already *gave* enough to Philly this off season…lol. Actually Blanton might not actually have much more value than a healthy Garcia, but he is younger and has certainly been more healthy and consistent the last few years.

All that being said I guess I still think the Yankees will try to trade for a decent middle rotation guy during spring training or during the 1st half.

phoenix2042
Member
Member
phoenix2042
5 years 6 months ago

blanton is probably a little bit better than garcia, but he costs like 5 times more, plus they would have to give up some farmhands. i also think that the yanks will trade for a starter midseason, but not in spring training. i doubt they go for an ace (i would love it though), but i think it will be a #3 type of guy, which would go a long way in pushing guys like burnett, garcia or nova down a notch both in the rotation and in importance.

Ben
Guest
Ben
5 years 6 months ago

I don’t think this is a bad signing. It’s a minor league deal. The Yanks have boatloads of money. If he flops, no harm done. If he can produce some quality fifth starter innings, it’s worth it. There’s no downside here.

Aaron
Guest
5 years 6 months ago

Considering what is available on the FA market for pitchers, I think this is a smart move by Cashman.. Garcia and Colon. They have been offered ST contracts,a nd I think it will push them to excel moving forwrd.

In addition, they should have plenty of innings to gauge their value for the season. With these guys, and Prior, and possibly Noesi and Mitchell and the Killer B closest to AAA, the Yanks have a lot of rotation options, for little to no dollars.

I think it is safe to say, that Garcia will probably outperform his contract.. and if he reaches all of his incentives, that is just a good thing for NYY.

Cashman has patched together a string of formerly succesful pitchers to invite to the ST complex; maybe one of these guys can stand out and help the Yankees out the first half.

Keep in mind, the Yanks may not need a fifth starter for much of the first 6 weeks, if there are few to no rain outs.

Nice article,
Aaron Evans

Tono73
Guest
5 years 6 months ago

c.c.& p.hugh’s,then pray 4 rain!!!

NYY
Guest
NYY
5 years 4 months ago

This is very poor analysis. Garcia pitches to contact, so assumptions on the importance of getting hitters to miss are irrelevant here. Watch the games and don’t pay so much attention to numbers.

wpDiscuz