M’s Snag 1B/DH Garko

Seattle Mariners signed 1B/DH Ryan Garko to a one-year, $550,000 contract with $525,000 in possible incentives.

Garko, 29, was non-tendered by the Giants earlier this off-season. So, to recap, San Francisco jettisons Garko (whom they acquired from Cleveland last summer for lefty pitching prospect Scott Barnes) to sign a more expensive, likely inferior first baseman in Aubrey Huff. Huh?

While Garko’s pact with the M’s is a one-year deal, the club retains his rights through the 2012 season, as he’s arbitration-eligible in 2011 and ’12 as well.

The righty batter has a career .279/.351/.441 triple-slash, with a 113 wRC+ and a .162 Isolated Power figure. In a 2009 season split between the Indians and Giants, Garko had a 107 wRC+.

Garko is presumably being brought in to thump lefty pitching, getting some time at first base in place of Casey Kotchman and at DH when either Milton Bradley or Griffey Jr.’s ghost aren’t occupying the spot.

Here are Garko’s splits during the course of his big league career, viewed through the scope of sOPS+. The Baseball-Reference stat compares a hitter’s performance in a given split to the league average. One-hundred is average, while anything above 100 is above-average for batters.

Garko’s splits, 2006-2009

Sure, Garko has been better vs. southpaws, but it’s not as though he’s totally helpless against same-side pitching.

Of course, first base and DH types are supposed to mash, not merely hold their own: the offensive bar at those spots is extremely high. By comparison, Garko comes up a bit short as an everyday option. CHONE projects a .268/.343/.438 line in 2010, with a 110 wRC+.

For reference, the overall MLB line at first base last year was .277/.362/.483, while the overall DH triple-slash was .264/.347/.447. Also, keep in mind that hitters may lose some effectiveness while DHing. In The Book, Tom Tango found that batters perform about 4-5 runs worse per 600 PA at DH, compared to when they play a position on the field.

Garko doesn’t figure to hold significant fantasy value, given his part-time status and good, not great bat at the low end of the defensive spectrum.

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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.

5 Responses to “M’s Snag 1B/DH Garko”

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  1. Good work D.G. Let me add a little bit to the analysis, taken from

    …The second reason I like this move is that the Mariners bought low on a quality offensive player. Despite the “down years” in 2008 and 2009 which made 2006 and 2007 seem like a fluke, it was bad luck which largely masked the fact that Garko’s skills improved last season. Whereas Garko struck out 20% of the time and walked approximately 6.5% of the time from 2006-2007, Garko posted a 7.3% BB% and 14.1% K% last season. The strikeout rate has come down every season since 2006. Garko’s power was down a bit last season (.153 ISO) compared to 2006 (.178 ISO) and 2007 (.194 ISO), but it bounced back from a low .131 mark in 2008 and was a robust .180 on the Indians before he was traded to the Giants a few days before the trade deadline. It is easy to forget that Ryan Garko posted a sexy .361 wOBA with the Indians last season. It was only when Garko was shipped away to San Francisco that things turned sour — and you can blame most of that on a .243 BABIP across 127 very limited PAs.

    Despite all the bad press stemming from his boring overall .268/.344/.421 (.765 OPS) triple slash line from last season, Garko was still 7% better than the league average player offensively. True, the average MLB first baseman hit .277/.362/.483 (.845 OPS) in 2009, but Garko was also hindered by a cumulative .282 BABIP (.304 xBABIP, according to THT’s xBABIP calculator calculator). If we adjust Garko’s BABIP to match his xBABIP and assume all of his additional hits would have been singles, Garko’s 2009 expected triple slash line would have been a very respectable .288/.362/.441 (.803 OPS). CHONE projections peg Garko as a +8 run bat and -2 run glove per 150 games next year. Combined this with a -12.5 positional and +20.0 replacement adjustment, and you’ve got a decent +1 to +1.5 WAR bat at your disposal. Obviously, Garko won’t see 150 games in a platoon, but he also won’t see a lot of righties, so let’s just say he’s a +1 WAR player next season. Pair this with a league average glove and a salary which is less than 20% of that of Aubrey Huff, and Jack Z’s got a bargain on his hands (+1 WAR has cost approximately $3.7 million in free agency dollars this offseason).

    By contrast, by the way, CHONE projects Aubrey Huff as a +1 run bat and -1 run bat per 150 games. Factor in the positional (-12.5) and replacement (+20.0) adjustments, and you’ve got yourself a +0.5 WAR player. Makes you wonder what Brian Sabean is doing out there in San Fran.

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  2. MC says:

    Garko for $500K? That’s dirt cheap.

    The other signing which I think is incredible despite it not getting any press is the A’s signing of Gabe Gross for around the same price. I’m just amazed that there’s no interest in these guys to the point where they can be had for almost the league minimum. I mean, Gross is a very good player, especially defensively, he’s tough as nails.

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  3. Joser says:

    Once interesting aspect of Garko for Fantasy players: he said in an interview that Zduriencik envisioned him as also having a role as a “third catcher” and

    he’s coming to spring training prepared to work on his catching skills. It’s a position he’s pretty much dropped the last couple of years after the Indians converted him to first base in 2005.

    “I caught all the way to Triple-A, and really would have kept doing it except Victor Martinez signed a five-year deal (with the Indians),” he said. “I felt it (switching positions) was my best path to the big leagues. It’s there. Jack and I talked about it. Just in terms of giving Don the opportunity to make moves in games, it’s important for us to have that third catcher. It just gives us more versatility and I think it can help the team.”

    Now, that may be all hot air in the usual “will show up at spring training in the best shape of his career” and pitchers who pick up “a new pitch” or hitters that made “that little adjustment” in the offseason. Players always say they’ll do anything to make the team, and the Mariners clearly see Garko as a RH 1B/DH platoon with just an interesting little something extra. (Though it should be noted that there were enough questions about Rob Johnson’s recovery from off-season surgery on both hips and “catcher of the future” Adam Moore’s development that the M’s earlier gave out a NRI to Josh Bard). Even if Garko genuinely spends a big chunk of ST behind the plate getting the rust off, there’s no certainty he’ll be there for even one inning in the regular season.

    But if he does serve a handful of games there, it changes his value for fantasy players. Granted, he’s a platoon player who won’t get a huge number of ABs, but that’s a lot more interesting if he becomes catcher eligible during the season.

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  4. joethewest says:

    I also like the fact that if Garko does happen to improve, however significantly, we can still offer him arbitration for two years.

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