Galarraga’s Good Fortune

Who would have thought, entering the 2008 season, that Armando Galarraga would end up being Detroit’s most consistent starting pitcher? With Justin Verlander stranding an unusually low percentage of runners, Jeremy Bonderman (whose career divide between his peripherals and ERA would make Javier Vazquez blush) succumbing to injury, Kenny Rogers (a career-worst 5.22 FIP ERA) looking cooked and Nate Robertson suffering from horrible luck on balls put in play (.343 BABIP), Galarraga was the only starter to post a sub-four ERA for a group that authored a combined 5.03 ERA.

Galarraga had previously been part of a blockbuster deal, as the Washington Nationals shipped him as well outfielders Terrmel Sledge and Brad Wilkerson to the Rangers for Alfonso Soriano in December of 2005. Galarraga’s trade from Texas to the Tigers, however, was much less splashy. Designated for assignment by the pitching-starved Rangers, Galarraga moved to the Motor City for outfielder Michael Hernandez, who went undrafted out of Oklahoma State in 2006. Galarraga was seen as possessing enough talent to help fill in at the back of a big league pitching staff, but he had missed nearly all of the 2002 and 2003 seasons following Tommy John surgery, as well as 2006 while battling a shoulder injury.

While Hernandez failed to impress at High-A and moved on to the Mets organization, Galarraga posted a 3.73 ERA for the Tigers in 28 starts. His 13-7 record was a breath of fresh air for a club that rarely received stellar starting performances. Regardless of what occurs from this point forward, the Tigers received one year of above-average pitching essentially for free. That’s a great deal no matter how you cut it. Unfortunately, there are plenty of reasons to expect Galarraga’s good fortune to come to an end in 2009.

The 6-4, 180 pounder compiled a superficially impressive ERA, but there was a Grand Canyon-sized gap between his actual ERA and his Fielding Independent ERA (FIP ERA). Galarraga’s FIP ERA was a much less impressive 4.88, over 1.1 runs higher than his actual mark. That dichotomy between his ERA and FIP ERA (-1.15 runs) was the largest in the majors, surpassing Daisuke Matsuzaka (-1.13) and Johan Santana (-0.97). Galarraga didn’t miss that many bats, striking out 6.35 batters per nine innings, and his control was just fair (3.07 BB/9). He was somewhat unlucky in the home run department (his HR/FB% was 13), but even using XFIP from The Hardball Times to adjust for that, his ERA came in at a less shiny 4.59. So, Galarraga struck out just slightly more than the league average, showed ordinary control and gave up his fair share of longballs. How did he manage to outperform his controllable skills by such a large margin?

The answer lies in Galarraga’s BABIP and Strand Rate (LOB%). The soon-to-be 27 year-old posted a minuscule .247 BABIP. Among starting pitchers, only David Bush and Tim Wakefield received more auspicious bounces on balls put in play. Galarraga also stranded runners at a 75.6% clip, above the 70-72% average in that category. When more of those balls put in play fail to reach gloves and his strand rate presumably ticks down, Galarraga’s ERA is going to climb.

As a free-talent acquisition, Armando Galarraga was an excellent value for the Tigers. However, his solid 2008 campaign looks more like a mirage than a harbinger of things to come. Let someone else pick Galarraga and end up disappointed with the results.




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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.


3 Responses to “Galarraga’s Good Fortune”

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  1. Polanco Fan says:

    Im just wondering though, im not a sabermetric expert but am slowly learing… anyway, wouldnt a guy like gallaraga who is a groundball pitcher have a lower BABIP than most other pitchers?

    One other thing, watching every Tiger game last year, i can tell you this, that leaving runners on base was Galarraga’s saving grace.

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  2. David Golebiewski says:

    Polanco Fan,

    In general, groundball pitchers tend to give up a higher BABIP than their flyball contemporaries (flyballs put in play are converted into outs more often than grounders).

    Here’s a nicle little excerpt from an outstanding primer put together by out own Dave Cameron at USS Mariner:

    “An outfield fly becomes an out 77.7% of the time. A groundball becomes an out 74.8% of the time. A line drive becomes an out only 26.4% of the time, which is why it’s the worst possible outcome for a pitcher. An infield fly becomes an out 98.8% of the time. Because of this, flyball pitchers will post more outs on balls in play than groundball pitchers, and it won’t be a fluke. However, the non-outs that flyball pitchers give up are more harmful, and thus, the quality of the hits against flyball pitchers outweighs the relative lack of quantity.”

    The chart that Dave is referring to is elsewhere in the article. A groundball put in play is a positive outcome for the pitcher, with an average run value of -.101 runs (a negative figure is good for the pitcher). A flyball on the other hand is worth +.035 runs, a net positive for the batter.

    Here’s a link to the entire article- it’s an awesome read:

    http://ussmariner.com/2006/08/29/evaluating-pitcher-talent/

    Sorry for the long-winded answer, but I guess we can sum it up as this: groundball pitchers surrender a higher BABIP on average than flyball pitchers, but the run value of those grounders is significantly lower than that of the flyballs. There are other factors that have to be considered (such as park factors and the quality of the pitcher’s defense), but keeping the ball on the ground is usually a positive for the pitcher.

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