Archive for Freddy Garcia
Once A.J. Burnett got traded, the picture seemed clear. Instead of having three pitchers competing for the final rotation spot, the Yankees narrowed that down to two. And, considering their performances in 2011, the competition seemed legit. Freddy Garcia, who impressed the Yankees enough that they signed him to a $4 million contract early in the off-season, even seemed to have the upper hand. His performance, reliability, and experience seems, or at least seemed, perfect for the fifth starter role.
Phil Hughes, on the other hand, seems like the riskier pick. He might be younger than Garcia, and relatively young in general, but his MLB experience isn’t overly exciting. After pitching well out of the bullpen for half a season in 2009, he started off 2010 with a bang while pitching from the rotation. But he couldn’t keep up that pace throughout the year. Last year was a disaster, which left many of us wondering if there’s anything behind the Phil Hughes hype.
This isn’t the first time Hughes has been involved in a rotation battle. In 2010 he joined Joba Chamberlain, Sergio Mitre, and Chad Gaudin in competition for the final rotation spot. As we learned that spring, though, there wasn’t much of a competition at all. The Yankees viewed Chamberlain as a reliever, and had no intention of letting Gaudin and Mitre take a rotation spot away from their 24-year-old top prospect who had dazzled in the bullpen the previous season. Hughes was the chosen one, probably before any of them threw a pitch in the spring.
According to Joel Sherman, we can expect much of the same this year.
But understand this: The competition is rigged. If it is close, Hughes wins. If it is advantage Garcia, but only slightly, Hughes wins. Hughes can only lose this by doing what he did last spring, having his fastball go on a mysterious hiatus.
Sherman goes on to describe how well Hughes has thrown during the first few spring outings, signaling that he’s already won the fifth starter job. He also quotes GM Brian Cashman, who said of Hughes: “I think he’s a top-of-the-rotation starter.” Those are pretty heavy words for a guy who hasn’t had a full and productive season in the bigs to date.
In terms of the organization’s future, it makes enough sense to prefer Hughes in the rotation. He’s with the team for at least two more seasons, and will hit free agency before his age-28 season. That is, they could keep him in the organization, even at market price, if he succeeds this year. That’s just not an option for Garcia, who, at age 35, has a limited number of productive years remaining.
It’s the present that’s a bit tougher to judge. Hughes very well could be the superior option this year, which makes the decision to use him in the rotation a no-brainer. But, again, it’s hard to look back on his career and see the signs of someone primed for success. If the Yankees do hand him the ball and he falters out of the gate, they’ll be in an even tougher spot. Do they pull Garcia out of the bullpen and insert him to the rotation? That would likely be the end of Hughes’ days in the rotation.
It comes down to how quickly the Yankees are willing to pull the plug. There’s no harm in seeing what Hughes can give you early in the season. Again, his potential future in the organization is much easier to see than Garcia’s. But at some point there needs to be an emphasis on the 2012 team. If Hughes isn’t working out, the Yankees can’t wait long before turning to Garcia. That’s just the point they’re at with Hughes. It’s either come out of the gates strong, or realize a diminished role in the organization.
It’s no surprise, really, to hear of the rigged competition. There’s a lot at stake, not only for 2012, but in 2013 and beyond. Clearly, Hughes has the potential to play a part in future Yankees teams, while Garcia does not. The key to this situation is how the Yankees approach the 2012 team. They can’t punt the last rotation spot all season. They need to know when it’s time to pull the plug on Hughes in the rotation, even if that means a full-time banishment to the bullpen.
Travel problems delayed Joe Girardi‘s arrival to Spring Training, but he made it to Tampa safe and sound prior to today’s workout session, the first of the 2012 season. Girardi spoke to the media about the state of his team afterward, so here’s a recap…
- CC Sabathia will get his seventh consecutive Opening Day nod, but after that? “You go [in] with an open mind,” said the skipper. [Marc Carig]
- Girardi said it’s important that Sabathia maintains his weight, and “stays there or close to it.” It’s most important that he “stays strong,” obviously. [Jack Curry]
- Phil Hughes and Freddy Garcia will battle it out for the fifth starter’s spot, though Girardi said he still envisions the former as a starter. [Curry]
- “I’m always amazed at how big players are today,” said Girardi about new pickup Michael Pineda. “They’re large humans.” [Mark Feinsand]
- David Robertson will remain the Eighth Inning Guy™ while Rafael Soriano gets stuck in the seventh inning. I’d like to see Robertson in more a fireman role rather than be married to one inning, but whatever. [Feinsand]
- Girardi is leaning towards a 3-4-5 of Robinson Cano, Alex Rodriguez, and Mark Teixeira, but he qualified it by saying: “I’m not married to that.” Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson figure to remain atop the lineup. [Feinsand & Carig]
- Girardi doesn’t have a clearly defined plan for A-Rod regarding his rest and time at DH, and he’ll probably play it by ear. He does expect Alex to have a big year, though not necessarily 45 homers big. [Carig & Curry]
- “I anticipate it will be [Frankie Cervelli],” said the skipper when asked about the backup catcher. Others like Austin Romine will get a shot to take the job in camp though. [Erik Boland & Carig]
- “If not for [A.J. Burnett], we may not win that World Series,” said Girardi about his departed right-hander. “I felt A.J. did everything we asked him to.” [Marc Carig]
- “I thought our guys came in good shape,” Girardi said. “I thought they were all ready to go.” [Chad Jennings]
[Photo via Bryan Hoch]
Following Larry’s examination of the best pitches in the Yankees’ rotation, we received an email from a reader who asked an excellent question.
I was wondering if you guys could do some kind of guide to what pitches each of our pitchers throw and how often.
Thanks to FanGraphs, identifying these pitches and frequencies becomes much easier. Previously, to identify a pitcher’s entire arsenal would require quite a bit of video watching, and would likely also require an outside resource. Frequency was out of the question, unless you had a paid subscription to a service such as Baseball Info Solutions. Now FanGraphs aggregates all of that data.
Today we’ll look into what the Yankees’ seven starters throw, and how frequently they throw it. But before we do, a few disclaimers. First, we’re going by Pitch f/x data here, since it’s captured on high-speed cameras. The Baseball Info Solutions data, also available on FanGraphs, gets recorded, from videos, by stringers. There’s much more room for human error there. Also, the Pitch f/x data includes more pitches, so there’s a more accurate breakdown.
At the same time, Pitch f/x isn’t error-free. It often misclassifies pitches, and consistently. For example, before 2010 it didn’t do a good job of separating different types of fastballs. I’ll try to combine personal knowledge of arsenals with the Pitch f/x data in order to provide a clearer look at each pitcher’s repertoire. Remember, too, that you can look into this yourself; the data is available on every FanGraphs player page.
Inspired by the excellent Red Sox blog Over the Monster, today I’m going to take a look at which Yankees starting pitchers throws the “best” pitch among each pitch category. As there are a variety of factors involved in determining a given pitch’s overall effectiveness, “best” in this instance is going to be subjective. In the interest of simplicity, I’m ranking the hurlers by their respective Whiff rates, as the ability to generate a swing-and-miss is probably the most transparent indication of pure stuff.
All of the data in the tables you’ll see below is from the 2011 season, and should be mostly self-explanatory. I’ll be the first to admit that a one-year sample is less-than-ideal, but I tried to run a three-year search and TexasLeaguers.com didn’t take to that request too kindly. The columns headed by “w” and “w/100″ are the pitch type’s linear weights (representing the total runs that a pitcher has saved using that pitch) and linear weights per 100 pitches (the amount of runs that pitcher saved with their fastball over the course of 100 fastballs thrown), which provide some level of insight into a pitch’s relative level of effectiveness but should not be analyzed in isolation, as they are subject to the whims of both sequencing and BABIP.
And right off the bat we have a prime example of the problems one can encounter with pitch type linear weights. If you sorted this table by wFF, Phil Hughes would come out on top. How on earth is that possible, you are likely asking yourself. I’m not entirely sure myself, as I don’t think anyone that saw Hughes pitch last year thought much of his fastball. However, he did get some people out, and presumably the vast majority of those outs came via his four-seamer, because, as you’ll see later on in this post, everything else he threw last season was pretty awful, at least by pitch type linear weights. Lending further credence to this notion is the fact that Hughes yielded a .282 BABIP on ground balls on his heater, compared to a .360 BABIP on ground balls on the curve, .444 on the cutter and .556 on his changeup.
As far as Whiff% goes, it should be quite heartening to see that the Yankees’ two newest rotation acquisitions outperformed everyone else in the rotation by a rather substantial margin. While both will likely see a decrease in their Whiff rates with the move to the AL East, at least they’re starting from a high baseline.
We know Ivan Nova threw a slider more than 3.9% of the time last season and so this table is a bit misleading. However, the pitch did become one of the keys to his improved second-half performance, and so there may be a case to be made for Nova having one of the better sliders on the team. Of course, Michael Pineda and CC Sabathia might have something to say about that. In any event, the Yankees’ front four in the rotation all boast pretty big-time sliders; bad news for opposing lineups.
While Pineda probably threw some two-seamers last season, I’d surmise that some of his four-seamers may have been misclassified, as a 10.6% Whiff% rate on a two-seamer/sinker is pretty damn high when you consider league average is 5.0%-5.4%. Not to mention the fact that the player with the best wFT/100 in MLB last season (Doug Fister), had a 5.4% Whiff% on his two-seamer. Sabathia probably has the best sinker on the team, although Kuroda is in that conversation as well if he can get his GB% back above 45%.
It should surprise no one that Sweaty Freddy had the best changeup on the team given his slow-slower-slowest approach, although Sabathia’s is also pretty great. No one else in the rotation has a particularly effective one, although Burnett’s did generate a slightly above-average Whiff% last year. Surprisingly, despite a rather diverse arsenal, Hiroki Kuroda is the only starter on the team that doesn’t throw a change at all. However, in his case he presumably partially makes up for it with his splitter, which can function like a hard change.
No surprises here; Burnett’s curve is the only thing keeping him away from the glue factory, but as everyone knows you can’t get very far with one working pitch. Nova’s curve is probably best described as a work-in-progress; while there were times in the second half that Phil Hughes looked like he was employing a harder (and more effective) curve and other times where his curve looked terrible. Stop me if you’ve heard the one about Hughes needing to improve his curveball to become an effective Major League starter.
The splitter is a fun pitch that Yankee fans don’t get to see too often, and this coming season we may have two members of the rotation featuring one (albeit in very different forms). Prior to Freddy Garcia, the last Yankee starter I can think of off the top of my head that threw one is Roger Clemens (Ed. Note: Jose Contreras threw a forkball, which is kinda like a splitter but slower). Per linear weights, neither Freddy nor Kuroda fared all that well with their splitters last season, but they still generated plenty of whiffs with the pitch.
So who boasts the best pitch in the Yankee rotation? Probably either Sabathia, with his heater or slider, or Pineda and his heater. I certainly wouldn’t argue against any of those three.
Over the last few days I’ve explained why A.J. Burnett, Freddy Garcia, and Phil Hughes each deserves to be the Yankees’ fifth starter to open the season while Joe countered with a reason for the team to essentially get rid of each player. Once upon a time all three guys were in the rotation no questions asked (like, three weeks ago), but right now two of three will be on the outside looking in come Opening Day, barring something unforeseen. That’s pretty neat.
Before we jump into the actual poll, let’s quickly go back and summarize each player’s case…
Burnett (case for, case against)
The healthiest of the bunch, A.J. has started each of the last two seasons well before completely tanking in the second half. The Yankees could take advantage of another potentially strong start by boosting his trade value a bit, since we know they’re trying to get rid of him. There are also some reasons to believe he might have gotten a little unlucky last year.
Garcia (case for, case against)
Crafty and sweaty, Garcia straight-up outpitched both Burnett and Hughes last year, and didn’t do anything to lose his job over the winter. He doesn’t have much bullpen experience, and his … ahem … extreme finesse approach would be a nice change of pace in a rotation fronted by four hard-throwers.
Hughes (case for, case against)
It boils down to youth and upside for St. Philip of Hughes, who is still just 25 and theoretically has his best years ahead of him. We know Burnett and Garcia definitely do not. An offseason of rest and a more serious conditioning program should have Hughes more prepared in Spring Training, and there’s no lingering dead arm/innings jump to worry about.
* * *
This whole fifth starter thing is just a weird situation. I want Hughes to get the job but I expect them to give it to Burnett, all while Garcia is the one that actually deserves it based on merit. Anyway, let’s get to the poll…
If the Yankees don’t use Freddy Garcia as the fifth starter, what exactly can they do with him? As Mike mentioned in his earlier post, he’s quite inflexible. He doesn’t have significant bullpen experience, which rules out the most obvious alternative. Since the Yankees signed Garcia after the free agency filing period ended, they cannot assign his contract — i.e., trade him — until June 15th without his written permission. That leaves the Yanks in a bit of a bind.
The strongest point in favor of Garcia manning the fifth spot is his lack of baggage. He’s under contract, he’s capable, and there’s nothing to prove. While both Hughes and Burnett are under contract, their capability is ripe for debate, and it’s undeniable that both have plenty to prove. Garcia, then, is the simplest, most straight forward option for the rotation. At the same time, that works against him.
The Yankees probably want to see if they can squeeze a little more value out of the $82.5 million they’ll pay Burnett. At the same time, they probably want to see if they can actually get prolonged productivity over a pitcher who was once the No. 4 prospect in the game. Brian Cashman‘s words do make it appear as though they wish to trade either Burnett or Hughes, which could ease the situation a bit. But even if they do, that leaves Garcia in competition with the non-traded pitcher. The point about flexibility remains.
Whatever the case with the other two pitchers, the Yankees will likely stand pat with Garcia throughout spring training. Injuries happen, so Garcia acts as a bit of insurance for the Yanks. If they reach the end of spring training healthy and decided that they’d prefer Hughes or Burnett in the fifth spot, it is conceivable at that point that Garcia would consent to a trade. He might have enjoyed his experience with the Yankees, but he might also prefer a chance to start with another team, rather than play the role of long man in the Yankees’ bullpen.
The biggest problem with the above scenarios is that Garcia’s greatest value for the Yankees comes in the rotation. He clearly won’t be as valuable out of the bullpen, even if he pitches moderately well there. He probably won’t fetch much in a trade, unless a team suffers multiple injuries in their starting rotation and becomes hopelessly desperate for a living, breathing pitcher. If the Yankees don’t use him as the fifth starter, the $4 million they used to sign him will have basically become garbage. That’s not ideal for a team that has used the word “budget” frequently this off-season.
Since Garcia is not involved in trade talks, and since he’d provide quality innings pitching in the fifth rotation spot, it’s easy to envision him there to start the season. The Yankees don’t have many other realistic options. They could try to trade him, but probably wouldn’t get equal value. They could move him to the bullpen, but he’s never really pitched there. It will probably take them moving one of Hughes or Burnett to make it work, but it does appear that the best solution for Garcia is to have him pitch every five days.
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.
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.
In terms of the 2012 team, the Yankees staged a coup this weekend. They went from having a rotation with several question marks to having one that ranks among the best in the American League. At the same time, they created something of a conundrum for themselves. What was once three spots for Phil Hughes, A.J. Burnett, and Freddy Garcia has turned into just one. While that will certainly help the on-field performance of the 2012 Yankees, it creates a difficult scenario. What are they going to do with the two pitchers who don’t win the last rotation spot?
It might seem as though Phil Hughes is the easiest to deal with here. He has experience in the bullpen, so he can slide in there and leave the last spot to either Garcia or Burnett. But at the same time, Hughes might be the best option for that fifth rotation spot. He’s still relatively young — entering his prime years. He’s working on rebounding after a poor season, and there are reasons to be optimistic about him. If he succeeds in the role, he can extend his stay with the Yankees. If he fails, the Yankees can simply slide him into the bullpen and hope he regains his mojo there. In pure baseball terms, he probably makes more sense than either Garcia or Burnett for a rotation spot.
The problem with using Hughes as the fifth starter is that leaves little recourse for Burnett and Garcia. They have a combined 10 innings of relief experience among them, and only 2.1 of those innings have come after 2005. Perhaps one of them could act as the long man, but it’s highly unlikely that the Yankees use their last two bullpen spots on both Garcia and Burnett. It even sounds unlikely that they’d use the last two bullpen spots on Hughes and either one of them.
Burnett’s and Garcia’s contracts present further problems. The Yankees owe Burnett $33 million, making it unlikely that they’d just release him. Even if they traded him, they’d have to pay him a considerable amount to pitch for another team. While Garcia makes far less, at just $4 million, his recently signed contract makes a trade impossible without his consent. Maybe he would consent if the Yankees told him he’d play only a minuscule bullpen role, but that’s far from a guarantee. It will not be easy to get rid of either Burnett or Garcia.
This all adds up to another move on the horizon, whether now or in spring training. The Yankees would do well to hold off, since that gives them time to evaluate Hughes and to adjust in case of injury. It could also open up opportunities if another team finds it needs a pitcher, for whatever reason, in March. But one way or another the Yankees will have to make a transaction or two to solve their logjam at the fifth starter spot. It’s probably the most interesting item left on their pre-season agenda.
Monday: Via The NY Post, we have a breakdown of Garcia’s incentives. He’ll make an additional $250k each for his 25th, 27th, 29th, and 30th starts, then $275k for his 31st start and $300k for his 32nd start. Freddy only made 25 starts in 2011, in part because the Yankees avoided using him like the plague back in April. Things figure to be different this time around.
In other news, Marc Carig reports that Curtis has cleared waivers and been outrighted to Triple-A Scranton. He remains with the organization, but is no longer on the 40-man roster. Part of me wondered if some NL team would grab him as a lefty hitting fifth outfielder, but nope. The shoulder injury was too much of a red flag, I guess.
Friday: A little more than two weeks after agreeing to a new deal, Freddy Garcia is officially back in pinstripes. Sweaty Freddy signed his one-year contract this morning, which Bryan Hoch says is worth $4M guaranteed plus another $1.575M in incentives based on games started.
To make room on the 40-man roster, the Yankees have designated Colin Curtis for assignment. The 26-year-old outfielder missed the entire 2011 season after suffering a shoulder injury in Spring Training, though he’s hitting .300/.391/.450 in winter ball so far (23 games). Curtis figured to be the team’s extra outfielder in Triple-A this year since Greg Golson has been released and both Justin Maxwell and Chris Dickerson are out of options. There’s a chance he’ll get claimed off waivers, but the shoulder injury is working in the Yankees’ favor.
Via David Waldstein, Freddy Garcia has passed his physical, so his new one-year deal worth $4M (plus incentives) could be made official any day now. The two sides are still working out some contract language, but I think that’s just code for “we don’t want to fill our last open 40-man roster spot before Thursday’s Rule 5 Draft.”
Physicals are usually routine, but they’re a little bit more than that when it comes to pitchers like Freddy, guys with major shoulder problems in the not-too-distant past. That said, it’s not like Garcia’s going to unexpectedly lose his stuff all of a sudden — a la Javy Vazquez in the second half of 2010 — it’s pretty much all gone already.