Blue Jays Sign Jaime Garcia: We added a starting pitcher!

 

It looks as though the Toronto Blue Jays have added their 5th starter in the form of lefty, Jaime Garcia

 

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Thursday afternoon, the Blue Jays announced the signing of starting pitcher Jaime Garcia to a one-year deal with a club option for 2019. The deal pays Garcia $8 million in 2018. If the Jays do not exercise the $10 million option, Garcia receives a $2 million buyout.

 

 

 

I’m a fan of this signing. First off, the cost and flexibility is excellent. The Fangraphs median crowdsource estimate was a three-year, $36 million deal. Dave Cameron guessed a two-year, $20 million deal. $10 million guaranteed is significantly below those estimates. As an added bonus, the team can keep him for another affordable year if he performs well in 2018. I say affordable because even $10 million is fair value if he can produce 1.1 fWAR in 2019, not a terribly high bar. The 105th most productive starting pitcher produced 1.1 fWAR in 2017. Coincidentally, that pitcher was Joe Biagini.

 

Performance-wise, I highlighted Garcia as part of an effective, but straightforward plan to finish the off-season. Last season, the average major league starter produced ERA- and FIP- of 103. Garcia posted marks of 102 and 98. He has produced fairly average strikeout and walk rates—his strikeout rate has ranged between 19% and 20.2% since 2015 (the average for a SP was 20.1%), while his walk rate has ranged from 5.9% and 9.5% (the SP average was 7.6%)—though his walk rate jumped a bit last season (it was the 9.5% mark).

 

Garcia’s specialty is generating weak contact. Last season, he produced the 50th lowest xwOBA on batted balls (.350) among 148 starters with 250+ batted balls allowed. For perspective, the average starting pitcher produced a mark of .362. This is something he has consistently excelled in, ranking 37th in 2016 (.351) and 3rd in 2015 (.304). He’s been a bit unlucky in terms of batted ball outcomes over the last two seasons—he ran xwOBA-wOBA (-.039 in 2016, -.021 in 2017) that were more negative than the average SP (-.012 from 2015-17).

 

This weak contact comes mainly via the ground ball. Last season, Garcia produced the 8th highest ground ball rate (54.8%) among 125 starters with 100+ IP. And that was a relative low for him—he ranked 5th in 2016 (56.6%) and 4th in 2015 (61.2%). By keeping the ball on the ground, Garcia has also avoided giving up an excessive number of barrels—his 3.8% barrel rate last year was better-than-average (4.4%), ranking 54th among 125 starters with 100+ IP.

 

This has helped Garcia avoid giving up too many dingers. Through 2015, the league-average HR/9 for starters had been around 1.0, but it has spiked to 1.29 over the last two seasons. Garcia’s HR/9 has seen a jump recently (0.66 through 2015, 1.20 over the last two seasons), but he remains a better-than-average SP at home run suppression. Moreover, as I mentioned earlier, there’s evidence he dealt with some bad batted ball luck the last two seasons, suggesting that his recent home run rates may have been inflated some.

 

Garcia’s primary weapons are a sinker (31.3% usage in 2017) and four-seam fastball (29.9%), each sitting around 91 mph. His secondary pitches included a changeup (18.3%), slider (13.6%) and curveball (6.9%). He’s a decent fielder, posting a DRS greater or equal than zero in each of his MLB seasons (10 DRS over his career). That’s a particularly handy trait for a ground ball pitcher.

 

In spite of the fact that Steamer projects him to produce a career-worst FIP in 2018 (4.66), the system also projects him to be worth 2.0 fWAR (though I’m not certain if those projections have been updated to reflect that he will be a Blue Jay). That kind of production is worth about $18 million and is another thing to like about this deal. Obviously, projections don’t win championships, but it’s a good indication that (with neutral luck) he should be more than fair value for his deal. It’s a projection that has him matching his 2015-17 fWAR average—since 2015, he ranks 57th among starters with 6.0 fWAR.

 

While a longer deal for a better starter could’ve helped the team in a lot of ways, the Blue Jays are currently in a position where a short-term deal for a starter makes a lot of sense. Obviously, Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez will be on board until 2020. While Marco Estrada and J.A. Happ are free agents after this season, they both seem happy in Toronto and are both still good pitchers, so extending one or both remains possible. Joe Biagini’s short-term future remains unclear. But, given that he responded well to the team’s request that he get into better shape to handle the rigours of starting in the big leagues, he may find himself in AAA honing his starting skills. In the upper minors, pitchers like Ryan Borucki and Tom Pannone seem a year or so (maybe less) away from being ready to start in the big leagues. With these factors in mind, the Jaime Garcia deal gives the team flexibility to respond to any number of different eventualities.

 

 

 

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I’m an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.

Jeff Quattrociocchi

I'm an economics professor in the GTA whose lifelong love for the Jays was reignited by that magical August of 2015 and the amazing moments since.