Matt Garza is arguably the best starting pitcher on the Chicago Cubs. He's certainly the best starting pitcher on the trade market this year. And that's good news for the Cubs, as their ongoing rebuild could very much benefit from a trade of Garza to a team that needs him more than they do.
All of this, however, doesn't necessarily make Garza a top-of-the-rotation starter.
David Kaplan of CSN Chicago notes there's plenty of interest in Garza, who is up for free-agency at season's end. Kaplan also adds this:
What I found interesting in talking with a handful of major league executives is that Garza is not considered a No. 1 or 2 in a rotation, but is considered a very strong No. 3 and the price the Cubs front office is asking for is exceptionally high. Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer are looking at this as a chance to hit the jackpot and I would do the same thing if I was in their shoes. However, rival GM's don't want to part with a few elite level prospects for somebody they will only have for 14 or 15 starts in the regular season.
Later on in the article, Kaplan includes this:
A year ago, the Milwaukee Brewers traded Zack Greinke to the Angels and received three prospects including standout shortstop Jean Segura and two Double-A pitchers. Of the baseball personnel experts I spoke with, the consensus is the Cubs will probably not receive as much as the Brewers did but should come close.
The takeaway of all this: Garza is not viewed as an ace-level pitcher, especially not in relation to Greinke and the assets the Brewers were able to get for him last year.
Kaplan mentioned that he found it "interesting" that rival executives aren't very high on Garza. With a 3.17 ERA and a killer hot streak in progress, you'd think they would be.
Then I dug a little deeper, and I realized, yeah, I can see it.
First, there's the matter of Garza's hot stretch. He's logged 43.2 innings over his last six starts and has racked up a 1.24 ERA, but, naturally, there's a catch. In this case, it's the fact that Garza hasn't been feasting on top-flight competition.
And now for some context: The league average for runs per game is 4.23 and the league-average OPS is .718.
So Garza has faced four below-average offensive teams in his last six starts: the New York Mets, Houston Astros, Chicago White Sox and Brewers—and it's worth noting that he faced a Ryan Braun-less Milwaukee lineup.
The A's do score runs at a good rate, but their OPS is right at the league average.
That leaves the St. Louis Cardinals as the best hitting team Garza has faced in his last six starts. Lo and behold, that was his worst start of the bunch. After managing game scores of at least 66 in his previous five starts, Garza only scored 48 against St. Louis.
If I'm an executive, I'm bringing all this up as part of an attempt to talk down Garza's price tag. In addition, I'm pointing out that Garza hasn't showcased No. 1 starter stuff this season.
Per Brooks Baseball, Garza's average four-seamer velocity this season is 93.51 miles per hour. One's roaming eye notices that Garza's average last year was 94.25 miles per hour.
Slipping fastball velocity isn't the only question concerning Garza's stuff.
Garza throws a four-seamer and a sinker, but both pitches are obviously of the "hard stuff" variety. Garza complements those two hard pitches with only one offspeed pitch that he throws with regularity: his slider. It's a good one, but Garza doesn't have a changeup to keep hitters guessing and his curveball is just OK and infrequently used.
Since Greinke is the measuring stick for Garza's trade value, an executive can easily point to him and note the differences between his repertoire in 2012 and Garza's repertoire in 2013.
According to Brooks Baseball, Greinke threw five pitches at least 10 percent of the time last year: his four-seamer, sinker, cutter, slider and curveball. He also threw his changeup about 6.5 percent of the time, which is far more often than Garza.
Garza's ERA is better, as he has a 3.17 ERA to the 3.32 ERA Greinke had at the break last year. But if we go to FanGraphs and dig up some other numbers, we notice that's about the only edge Garza has over Greinke.
Never mind the starts and the innings for a moment. Focus on everything else, which all sends a pretty clear message:
Greinke in the first half of 2012 was much better than Garza has been in the first half of this season.
Greinke was striking out more hitters, walking fewer hitters, racking up more ground balls, serving up fewer home runs, putting up better defense-neutral stats (FIP and xFIP) and generally provided greater overall value for his team. In fact, Greinke was providing more value than all but one other starting pitcher at the time, only Justin Verlander had a better fWAR than Greinke at the break last year.
The fact that Garza's numbers don't stack up isn't the only issue. His FIP and xFIP both say his 3.17 ERA is a little too good, a sign that he could be in for some regression. And lest you choose not to trust either stat, consider that since the start of 2011, Garza's 3.45 ERA is on par with his 3.45 FIP and a 3.43 xFIP.
Slightly more concerning is the fact that Garza's strikeouts are down compared to his past two seasons. So is his ground-ball percentage, which is generally not a good sign unless it's paired with a rise in strikeouts. More balls in the air, after all, means more balls that might find their way over the fence.
And then, at last, we come to the fact that Garza has only made 11 starts, which is due to his missing the first 43 days of the season recovering from a lat strain he suffered in spring training. Injuries are a real concern with him, as Baseball Prospectus counts that Garza has lost 129 days to the disabled list in the last three seasons.
What I'm getting at here is that Garza is a waste of time that nobody should have any interest in trading f...
Wait, hang on, that's not what I'm getting at. Need to dial it down.
What I'm really getting at is that the execs around the league who view Garza as a non-ace who isn't worth a Greinke-like trade package have some legs to stand on. Garza has certainly racked up numbers befitting of a top-of-the-rotation guy in his last six starts, but it's a stretch that's really not indicative of the kind of pitcher he is. A "very strong No. 3" is a description that suits him well.
There's a chance, however, that none of this will matter. The Cubs have a hot pitcher on their hands and a lot of interest in said hot pitcher. All it takes is one GM who's more desperate than all the others, a few words back and forth, and the Cubs could be welcoming an impressive basket of prospects in no time at all.
If it comes to that, there will be some fist-pumping going on in the Cubs' front office, for it will have traded a non-ace starter for an ace-level package.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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