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Keeper Question: Jaime Garcia

If the Cardinals have any hope for Adam Wainwright to return next year to the form that made him a top-of-the-line pitcher, they need only to look at another pitcher already in their rotation. Jaime Garcia missed most of the 2009 season after undergoing the procedure following the 2008 season. In his first full season back, Garcia not only pitched quite well, he did so in the majors, having broken camp with the Cards in something of a surprise move.

In a weaker field, he might have been able to earn Rookie of the Year honors, but 2010’s class was stocked — Buster Posey was the winner over Jason Heyward, Garcia, Gaby Sanchez, and Starlin Castro — so stealing the prize was somewhat out of the realm of possibility.

Not much changed in Garcia’s overall numbers from 2010 to 2011 except a small bump up in ERA:

2010: 13-8, 1.31 WHIP, 7.3 K/9, 2.70 ERA
2011: 13-7, 1.32 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 3.56 ERA

How he reached those numbers did change a little. He dropped his BB/9 from 3.5 to 2.3, but gave up more hits — 8.3 per 9 in 2010 and 9.6 in 2011 — due in no small part to a rise in BABIP from .292 to .318. There’s nothing worrying in his small BABIP rise, his LD% stayed almost identical; he allowed a few more fly balls, but nothing that would portend a change in pitching style or effectiveness in 2012. Unless he suddenly finds the worlds luckiest rabbit’s foot or accidentally spills salt all over a broken mirror, I expect a WHIP in the 1.25-1.35 range and about 7 K/9, the wins and ERA will be what they will be.

If I were evaluating a the Cardinals staff simply on its merits, I’d look at Garcia as a strong third starter behind Chris Carpenter and Wainwright — provided my belief that he’ll be back at near full capacity is correct — though if he were to be traded to a lesser pitching staff, he could be a solid secondary option.

So why don’t I like him in fantasy?

The answer is that I do, despite what you might read in the comments. Garcia is the type of pitcher who turns good rotations into great rotations, but not if he’s your best or second best pitcher. I just don’t see him as being integral enough to anyone’s pitching staff to be worth keeping. In NL-only, if you’re cobbling together a staff of middle tier options, relying on low ERA and WHIP with few high strikeout options, I can see where having someone at least in the 7-7.5 K/9 range would seem important, and in that case I can abide keeping Garcia.

Especially In mixed however, there are just other options out there that can match Garcia’s ERA and WHIP, while posting better strikeout numbers at a lower ADP or auction cost. Scott Baker is just one I expect to post strong numbers next year, but who was drafted lower than Garcia this year and will likely be drafted lower again next year. Ian Kennedy and James Shields were both taken after Garcia in 2011 and produced far better.

Garcia offers little downside, which certainly separates him from players like Cory Luebke or Ricky Nolasco, who have shown good numbers in the past, but who have serious questions regarding their ability to do so again in 2012. His good groundball numbers are appealing, especially if the Cardinals are successful in re-signing Rafael Furcal — if they’re left with Ryan Theriot again, even a good groundball rate won’t help Garcia prevent hits very well.

The takeaway here should be that Garcia is a better pitcher in real life than he is in most versions of fantasy, and pitchers like that frequently get drafted above their value. That doesn’t mean I don’t like him, doesn’t mean I wouldn’t draft him if he slipped into the range I think his value merits, it just means I see better value out there and — here’s the theme again — with the depth of pitching right now, overpaying is not an option. I realize this probably won’t assuage his most ardent backers, but it’s a more robust explanation of my opinion than you’ll see tomorrow in the next set of NL SP rankings.