Freddy Garcia’s Fifth Starter Case

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(AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Yesterday we examined A.J. Burnett‘s case for the Yankees’ fifth starter spot, an admittedly flimsy case at best. Today we’re going to move onto Freddy Garcia, who would deserve the job with no questions asked if the decision was based solely on 2011 performance. He pitched to a 3.62 ERA and a perfectly league average 4.12 FIP  in 146.2 IP, and was arguably the team’s most consistent starter from Game One through Game 162.

There are some question marks at age 35, but there are also some very real reasons why Garcia should get the get the ball every five days over Burnett and Phil Hughes. Let’s break it down…

He’s The Incumbent

Before rain suspended Game One of the ALDS last year, the Yankees intended to use just three starters in the five-game series, and one of the them was Garcia. Both Hughes and Burnett were in the bullpen to open the series with the Tigers. Like I said, Freddy outpitched both of those guys pretty handily during the regular season and earned that spot in the postseason rotation. He’s done nothing to lose it over the last three months.

He’s Inflexible

Sweaty Freddy has pitched in 329 games as a big leaguer, and he appeared in all but two of those games as a starter. He has basically no experience in a relief role. Hughes has pitched very well out of the bullpen throughout his career, and although Burnett doesn’t have much bullpen experience in his career (just five career relief appearances), the Yankees obviously felt comfortable enough with him in that role since that’s where they intended to put him in the playoffs before the weather forced him into a Game Four start.

Its worth noting that Garcia has undergone some major shoulder surgery in the not-too-distant past, so he might need more time to warm up than the typical pitcher. I know that’s part of the reason why the Rays never tried Jeff Niemann in the bullpen back in the day, when he was running out of minor league options without a clear path to the big leagues. Needing a long time to warm up isn’t an issue as a starter, but if Freddy needs a good 20-30 minutes to get going while pitching out of the bullpen, well that’s a major issue. He’ll need a full innings’ notice, which just isn’t how baseball works these days.

He’s Crafty (…and he’s just my type)

The front four of the Yankees rotation is quartet of hard-throwers. CC Sabathia and Michael Pineda had two of the seven hardest fastballs in all of baseball last season while both Hiroki Kuroda and Ivan Nova averaged better than 92 with the heat (92.1 and 92.4, respectively). The last time Garcia hit 92 mph with his fastball was about six years ago, and these days he does most of his living in the 85-88 mph range. He makes it work though, and it’s a pretty extreme change of pace from the rest of the pitching staff, bullpen included. A full five-man rotation of craftiness won’t work (coughTwinscough), but mixing one soft-tosser into a staff of power pitchers adds some nice variety and deception. Pitching is all about disrupting a hitter’s timing, and Freddy does that in a big way compared to his teammates.

* * *

Given his age, his stuff, his injury history, and the fine line he treads every time he goes out to the mound, it’s easy to cast Garcia aside. He’s now four full years removed from shoulder surgery and has thrown 150 IP in each of the last two seasons, so the questions about his durability are being answered. He had to continually prove himself each time out last season, and he did just that in a tough pitcher’s environment (in terms of division and ballpark). Freddy showed he was up to the challenge, and we’ve heard a lot about the Yankees liking his toughness and his veteran presence. I hear he also gives the young players some nice veteran presents as well, but that’s besides the point.

The Yankees have very little invested in Garcia. He’s one a one-year contract and his $4M salary will represent less than 2% of their payroll next season. They don’t have to worry about his development (like they would with Hughes) or try to justify the investment they made in him (like they might feel they have to do with Burnett), they could just send him out there every give days and basically forget about him. If he pitches poorly, then just cut him. No big deal and no strings attached. Garcia’s been through it all in his career, and serving as the fifth starter on a contending team is job in which he is more than qualified.

Cashman: Free agents are "secondary" in DH search
Tigers land Fielder with nine-year deal
  • Cris Pengiucci

    So the rotation goes: Lefty, Righty, Righty, Righty, Crafty?

    • vin

      I would like to see Lefty, Righty, Crafty, Righty, Venditte.

      But that’s just me.

  • Thomas Cassidy

    Garcia is the probable choice right now, but I really hope Hughes can rebound to 2010 form. Here’s to hoping the number five starter wins 25 games!

    • Cris Pengiucci

      The Yankees will look at all factors when making the decision. My opinion: Since Hughes can pitch out of the pen (proven), and Garcia doesn’t seem to be a fit there, Garcia is the likely choice for the 5th starter spot, despite AJ’s strong start the past 2 seasons and his salary. The only excpetion to this may be if the Yankees want to showcase AJ for an early season trade.

      Perhpas this changes as the season progresses. I’d love to see Hughes have a solid season as a starter, even if it’s just part of the season.

  • JobaWockeeZ

    Not a fan of sub 6 K/9s and a GB rate in the high 30 percent even as a 5th starter. AJ sucks too so I hope Hughes wins it.

    • Cris Pengiucci

      I’m a fan of results, and Freddy had them pretty consistently last season. I think it’s his spot to lose right now.

      • JobaWockeeZ

        I’m not a fan of relying on getting lucky again. Apparently neither are the Yankees which is why not only they got Pineda but they got Kuroda to stabilize the back end.

        So no, it’s definitely not Garcia’s spot to lose or otherwise they wouldn’t spend 10 million for a fourth pitcher.

        • Cris Pengiucci

          I think the Yankees took advantage of a trade opportunity and were not comfortable with the choice of AJ or Hughes as a number 5, so that led to the Kuroda signing at a cost they felt was acceptable. This pushes Freddy back to the 5-starter spot, which I feel is an appropriate place for him. I don’t expect him to be a 2-type starter, or the second best starter on the team, but he’s at least as good a choice for the 5 spot as AJ (most likely better) and unless Hughes turns back into the starter he can be, better than him as well. Don’t get me wrong, I’d rather have good Phil than Freddy, but looking at the roster make up and how each slots into a role, I see Freddy as the current front runner. Just my opinion.

    • vin
      • JobaWockeeZ

        And what is this supposed to prove?

        Because he’s not a long-term piece of the Yankees puzzle, I have no trouble looking past Garcia’s process and focusing on his results. I don’t care if what he’s doing is sustainable for the long-term because it doesn’t have to be.

        That was in July when he was on the team without a better choice so you couldn’t care about whether or not it’s sustainable. Now we have a choice and you choose by evaluating. That piece changes literally nothing.

        • JobaWockeeZ

          Hughes while injured still had the same exact K/9, had a bit worse GB rate, and walked more than a batter more per 9 innings yet the difference between FIPs was like .50

          Or we can play the luck game and hope Garcia’s fly ball tendencies won’t kill him. He’s given up almost 10 homers in his last 50 innings so we can’t say he has a skill for preventing home runs either.

          • vin

            I should make myself more clear… I’d prefer to see Hughes get the job, with Freddy serving as the long man out of the pen (the only role he could probably pull off). With AJ being banished to whatever far off land will take him.

            However, my hunch is that Phil will get dealt for a bat, and Garcia will get the job and AJ will be in the pen. Phil is definitely the most tradeable of the three (although not nearly as valuable as he was even last year). And with the likes of Warren, Phelps, Banuelos and Betances lurking, I think Phil becomes expendable.

        • vin

          Not trying to prove anything, other than some guys can be effective with unorthodox methods. Garcia has overcome his diminished velocity to have two consecutive successful seasons (relative to other 5th starters that is). Of course that doesn’t mean what he did the last two years portends future success, just that he can’t be dismissed out-of-hand.

          Either the Yankees have a better method for evaluating quality of contact, or they’re simply hoping to get lucky again. Not to mention the fact that they probably didn’t know how their offseason would shape up, so they played it safe and re-signed him with the hope that he could hold his own as the 5th best starter.

  • Voice of Reason

    It’s a very fair assumption that Garcia will not translate as well to the pen as Hughes or Burnett, but just because he hasn’t pitched out of the pen that doesn’t necessarily mean he can’t.

  • I Live in My Mom’s Basement

    I would not be surprised to see Freddie as the 5th starter, AJ out of the bullpen, and Phil starting the season at SWB.

  • nsalem

    I hope Garcia is the 5th starter this year and many years to come. He has been healthy the last couple of years and he probably won’t have issues from over use or over throwing. He comes at a low cost and has been nothing but consistent over the last two years Unlike other pitchers loss of velocity should not be an issue with Freddy. Last year people were pointing to Freddy[‘s couple of bad outings vs the RedSox to point out that Freddy could not succeed against good offensive teams. These people somehow overlooked his excellent record against the Rangers, Rays and good performances last year vs the Brewers and Reds and a great start vs the Yankees in 2010. Even Freddy’s biggest fans can not expect him to replicate his 2011 season, but something even close to that should translate to a good amount of W’s for the Yankees on the days he starts.

  • Slamalamadingdong

    “I hear he also gives the young players some nice veteran presents”


  • Mike Myers

    Hughes = upside (I know you said this for AJ. but I think it belongs to Hughes. looked good only 2 years ago)
    AJ = Durability? Sunk Cost? Ego of paying his contract?
    Freddy = Stability. 10+ wins and will not miss too many games

    Gotta go – Hughes, Freddy, Wet Rag, Aj.

  • UncleArgyle

    I do like the idea of Garcia’s soft tossing style between Pineda and CC. Seems that could really mess with hitters timing. #4 Pineda, #5 Garcia, #1 CC.

    • vin

      Sounds good in theory, does anyone know if this has been studied before? I would think the “change of pace” would be really only effective as it relates to the starter-reliever, and reliever-reliever pitching changes, not from game to game.

  • handtius

    I would really like to see hughes given a chance, but i don’t see it happening. unless they trade aj, he’ll start the season to make him more tradible. as a reliever there is even less of a chance of some desperate team taking a chance on him. garcia will start once aj is traded and hughes, i hope he starts in the minors for when someone gets hurt. you never know, maybe nova can’t hang. maybe last year was just a fluke. we don’t know yet. time and starting depth. we need both.


    Putting him in the rotation because he can’t or hasn’t pitched out of the pen seems to be backwards logic.
    Also, fans love “crafty” until they see those 85 MPH meatballs launched into earth’s orbit.

  • BK2ATL

    I think Freddy should be awarded the final starter in the rotation coming out of ST. I think, of the 3, he is the only that can be counted on to give quality innings. Plus the change of pace effect. He won’t wow anyone with stats, but he does get outs. I’m all for the results. In the 5th spot of the rotation, he would provide stability and consistency, very underrated.

    Hughes can start the season in AAA and hopefully rebuild the fire to compete for a spot, should anyone (Nova, Hughes) falter. He has the “upside” but the results are uneven. I think we’re at the stage where the results are what matters most. Put up or shut up time for Hughes. Banuelos and Betances are just about ready to compete. If he won’t claim his spot with a solid performance in 2012, he’s gotta get out of the way.

    AJ just needs to be traded. If not, long relief way in the back of the bullpen. There is no case for him being a starter for us in 2012, other than his contract. His results are no fluke. I just can’t…with this dude.

  • Mike HC

    As of now, Garcia is my choice. Pending until the end of Spring Training though. Maybe Hughes takes an obvious, big jump? That long term potential would have to override Garcia’s change of pace and steadiness I would think. And AJ would be nothing than a salary hierarchy type move. Cash is definitely doing everything he can to move him for something of value, anything of value.

  • Dick Winters

    Freddy Garcia is a crafty veteran. I think Phil Hughes belongs in the bullpen as his stuff plays better down there. I don’t know what they did to Phil’s arm but he’ll never be a reliable full time starter. Phil, Joba, Soriano, DRob, and Mo is a strong pen. AJ Burnett doesn’t even belong on the roster. Freddy needs to be starting. He’s earned it.

    • handtius

      every starters stuff plays up in the pen. cash even said that the other day. doesn’t mean hughes should be in there.

  • vin

    I’ve got to admit, I am happy that Cashman stated he doesn’t view Hughes as a reliever. I think the easy way out (if there are no injuries) would be to put Freddy in the rotation with Phil and AJ in the pen, that is of course if AJ can’t be traded.

    Which tells me that, at the very least, he is trying to maintain Phil’s trade value.

  • MattG

    Freddy’s earned it. Well, let’s challenge that: 4.12 FIP with (IMO) an unsustainable 8.2% HR/FB rate. 4.77 FIP in 2010, 3.35 FPI in 2009 but in only 56 innings. He hasn’t cracked the 6 K/9 in the past three seasons, and he owns a declining GB rate, down to 36.4%.

    Let’s be honest. Freddy didn’t earn it–he was running unopposed. Now he’s the third horse in this race, and if either of the other two can trot without breaking stride, Freddy will finish several lengths out of the money.

    I am not one to suggest a team make decisions based on spring training, but if either AJ or Phil show up at camp looking ready to go, Freddy will not be earning his spot in 2012.

    • AJavierkei Pavagawnett

      This over reading of peripheral stats is killing me.

      Most years Garcia’s ground ball rate is 41%. Is 36.4% really a significant difference?

      Second, let’s say his HR/FB rate (the dumbest of all peripheral pitching stats) is 10% instead of 8%. That would mean him giving up an extra 3 or 4 home runs OVER THE COURSE OF THE ENTIRE YEAR.

      Third, his K/9 innings rate is in line with what he has done throughout his career.

      Fourth, his xFIP has remained remarkably consistent throughout his career as well.

      I really don’t understand what the value is of looking at any of these peripherals with middle-to-back-end-of-the-rotation veteran starters who throw crap and put in reliable performances year after year. Why would Freddy’s garbage work any less well 2012 compared to 2011? These stats are less predictive of mid-to-back-end of the rotation productiveness than a lot of people assume

      And who cares if his ERA ends up between 4 and 4.5?

      He gets out there, he sweats, and most of the time he gets you into, if not through, the sixth inning. You can’t say that about Burnett or Hughes.

      At the end of the year the standings are determined by wins and losses, not FIP and ground ball rates.

      • MattG

        1. 36% and 41% is a huge difference.
        2. 8% and 10% (or more likely, 11.1%, his career rate) is a huge difference.
        3. His career K/9 is 6.44. When he was good, it was routinely over 7. That too is a huge difference.
        4. His career xFIP is 4.20. When he was good, it was under 4. That is a biggish difference.
        5. Why would Freddy’s garbage work as good again as it did in 2011? It wasn’t so good in 2010, and the peripherals declined.

        6: most of all: Freddy was a last resort. You know what he gives you. He didn’t elevate his game to win his spot. He stayed steady while others sucked their way behind him. If you’re being honest, you know the Yankees want to see AJ or Phil (or Warren, Mitchell, or Phelps) take his spot away. He’s an easily exiled insurance policy.

        • AJavierkei Pavagawnett

          Freddy’s stats/performance have been stable for about 8 years

          1) Freddy Garcia’s K/9 hasn’t been >6 since 2004.

          2) 8% and 10% is not a huge difference for HR/FB. It means he only gives up 3 more home runs the entire year. How is this significant?

          3) His last FIP under 4 was 2005 (FIP is also a horrendous stat by the way).

          4) All stats randomly vary to some degree. Yes, 36% GB rate is lower than 41%. But is that a statistically significant difference representative of declining skills? Or could it just be due to random variation? It’s more likely it’s the latter.

          Despite the difference in ERA his performance was pretty similar in 2011 to 2010. I think that for a back-of-the-rotation starter that he’s solid. Why should he have to elevate his game? I would be happy with him doing in 2012 what he did in either of those years.

          Hughes sucks and Burnett sucks. Unless either of them show you something very impressive early on Garcia should be the #5.

          Now could Warren, Mitchell or Phelps surprise and perform better than projected like Nova did? That’s a possibility – if the Yankees are cruising and you want to see what one of those guys can do in the majors great. But in terms of providing reliable innings and routinely putting the Yankees in a position to win, Garcia is the best choice for the #5 slot by a mile.

  • pat

    Maybe Freddy can teach Pineda the splitter. I’d JIMP.

  • http://riveraveblues panos

    garcia and kuroda both in rotation is bad idea. the yankees are a old slow team.