Matt Garza Heads South to Texas

The first big trade before the deadline next week is official. Matt Garza is headed to the land of cowboys and barbecue in exchange for Mike Olt, Justin Grimm, C.J. Edwards and one to two players to be named later. Garza will be leaving the windy city and entering the sweltering heat smack in the middle of summer. Let’s figure out how the park and league switch could affect his fantasy performance

First off, it is easy to forget that Garza began his career in the American League as a member of the Twins, then pitched for the Rays from 2008-2010 before making his way up North to Chicago in 2011. The relevant skill metrics for the average starter in each league are summarized below:

AL Starters 18.6% 7.1 7.4% 2.8 0.297 11.9% 4.27
NL Starters 18.8% 7.1 7.3% 2.8 0.291 10.6% 3.90

Wow, I cannot recall a time when American League starting pitchers posted a nearly identical strikeout rate as National League starters. They usually punch out about 0.4-0.5 fewer batters per 9 innings. You could see that although the skills are similar between pitchers in each league, the existence of the DH in the AL has boosted the BABIP and HR/FB rates. So that’s been the entire explanation behind the ERA gap.

Whether it’s because of the American League truly possessing better strikeout pitchers this year or just a fluke, you still have to assume that moving to the AL is going to reduce a starting pitcher’s strikeout rate. So all else being equal, Garza is looking at a decline in strikeout rate, BABIP and HR/FB rate strictly due to the league switch.

Now let’s move on to the park switch. Here are the relevant numbers from our park factors (remember they are all halved to account for the fact that players only play have their games at home):

  Runs 1B HR SO BB
Rangers 107 102 110 99 101
Cubs 104 101 102 100 101

This is not looking good for Garza owners. While the strikeout and walk factors for each park are both neutral, every offensive metric is significantly inflated at the Ballpark in Arlington, both on an absolute basis versus all parks and a relative basis compared with Wrigley Field. I didn’t include doubles and triples, both those hit types are also boosted in the Texas heat. So Garza is going to get hit with a triple whammy of more balls in play due to fewer strikeouts, a DH-boosted HR/FB rate and a park-fueled home run increase.

Though I have named plenty of negatives, there is one positive to keep us Garza owners (yes, I am one of them) from completely jumping ship. That glimmer of hope is the difference in offensive support. The Cubs have defined mediocrity this season, ranking 8th in the National League in wOBA. The Rangers haven’t been a whole lot better, ranking 7th in the AL in wOBA, but that included both Ian Kinsler and Mitch Moreland missing a chunk of the season. With Alfonso Soriano possibly on the move as well, the Cubs offense could look very weak in the coming weeks, so the Rangers will surely provide better run support than the Cubs would have had he stayed with the team. It is also worth noting that the Rangers and Cubs rank back-to-back in UZR/150, so he should see no material difference in defensive support.

Unfortunately, I don’t think the greater win potential will be enough to offset the decline in strikeouts and hit to his ratios. Garza has already benefited from some good fortune as a result of a career best .266 BABIP and 80% LOB%, so there’s a reasonable chance that he posts an ERA above 4.00 as a member of the Rangers rotation. I don’t think Garza’s name value is all that high and so it’s hard to predict if you would be able to sell him high. But I certainly would try and see if you could make a swap for another pitcher who doesn’t have to deal with one of the best hitter’s parks in baseball after a move to the more hitter friendly league.

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Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. He also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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I own both Garza and Peavy, and since I failed to trade Garza before his real life trade to Texas I’m pretty much stuck with him. I hope Peavy gets traded to the Giants or some other NL West team with a huge park (not Arizona) to offset the losses from Garza.