There’s really nothing better than finding value off the scrap heap. Chicago starter Freddy Garcia presents a rare opportunity for both fantasy owners and MLB GMs to partake in the thrill of raising the dead.
Freddy Garcia is no new phenomenon in fantasy baseball. The hurler is a holdover from the ’90s, a vestige of days gone by when dial-up modems and the United States Postal Service ruled the world. The man is a vet, no, a grizzled vet, in every sense of the word. He has struggled with shoulder injuries since 2004, yet continues to chug on, though his arm is being held together by sheer will power, grit and duct tape. Garcia has not played a full season since 2006, throwing all of 101.2 IP over parts of the last three seasons.
Yet, despite all this, Garcia continues to produce … when healthy. 2009 is no different.
When assessing the health of a starter, there are a few key indicators to watch for. One, of course, is velocity. When a player is hiding an injury or has lingering effects from surgery or a previous DL stint, he often sees a reduction in velocity. Fortunately for Garcia, his velocity is right where he left it in 2006, his last full season in the majors. While this is a good sign that he has recovered well from his latest shoulder escapade, this does not mean that he is back to form from his days in Seattle. In the early 2000s, when Garcia was at the best of his career, he was sitting in the 91 mph range (with a season at 93 mph in 2002). His arm has not been the same since 2006, when he dropped 2 mph on his fastball from 91.4 in ’05 to 89.3 mph in ’06. The Garcia of 2009 sits at 88.5 mph. While not the Garcia of old, a 0.8 mph drop in velocity is not much to be concerned about, considering all his arm has been through.
The second, and often more important, indicator is his command ratios. Even if a pitcher has a decrease in velocity, hitters will not be able to slug his stuff until he starts leaving it over the plate or getting into lots of hitter’s counts … and then there’s the walks. Even with diminished velocity, should Garcia be able to control the strike zone and keep his walk totals down, he should be a relatively effective pitcher. Luckily for him, he has been able to do so, as his 2.83 BB/9 and 56.3 first-strike percentage are right in line with his career averages.
So where does this leave Freddy Garcia?
With below-average velocity but above-average command, Garcia should be in relatively good hands. He’s not a keeper, so what really matters is what he’ll be able to provide for the stretch run in the next few weeks. His shoulder should be able to hold up. So, what does he have left? We should be able to find some hints in his rate statistics.
When fishing for information on a pitcher’s strikeout and walk profile, three important characteristics tell the tale: batter swing percentage, contact percentage, and pitcher zone percentage. These three indicators go a long way in reporting how patient batters are with a pitcher and how hard the pitcher is to hit. This season, Garcia has put together a 43.2 percent swing percentage, a 74 percent contact percentage, and a 49.3 percent zone percentage.
The zone percentage is not ideal, as it is low for a starting pitcher. This means that Garcia is frequently missing the plate, leading to more hitter’s counts and more walks.
His swing percentage is also low, which exacerbates his problems commanding the zone. If batters are not offering at pitches, especially with the number he is throwing outside the zone, Garcia is almost assured to give up lots of walks.
But the money maker, contact percentage, is an excellent 74.0 percent. This actually piqued my interest as I was evaluating Garcia. While this season is the best he has had on record since this stat became available in 2002, Garcia has always had very good contact percentages, with a career rate (since 2002) of 77.5 percent.
It almost seems as if Garcia is pulling a trick on all of us.
Since 2002, Garcia has posted a 2.59 BB/9 along with a 6.66 K/9. Those are the numbers of a control pitcher who doesn’t have swing-and-miss stuff. However, with a 77.5 contact percentage since 2002, Garcia should have been striking out far more batters than this, with seasons possibly in the 8s and 9s K/9. Factoring in his other plate discipline attributes, Garcia profiles more as a pitcher who strikes out 8 batters per nine innings, while walking 3-4. This is not at all the Freddy Garcia we have grown accustomed to, however.
So where does this leave us? On the one hand, questioning how a pitcher ever had such a profile but was never able to strike out 8 batters per nine innings. On the other hand, fascinated and curious that maybe Garcia is one of those pitchers who really does pitch to contact, despite having stuff to strike out batters.
With just over two weeks left in the season, feel safe to play Freddy Garcia. He is owned in very few leagues at the moment, so you have the opportunity to get a quality pitcher for nothing off the waiver wire. There is no reason to believe that his shoulder cannot hold up over his next few starts and he will certainly be able to deliver quality starts, a good ERA, and a few wins. While sample size is an issue when considering Garcia’s 2009 performance to date, his steady velocity, F-strike rate, and contact rates all bode well for his future.
Expect Garcia to continue to pitch to contact as he has done throughout his career. While this won’t be great for your strikeout numbers, it will help with the WHIP and ERA. Garcia’s current 3.33 FIP seems low and is more a reflection of his low HR rate, currently at 6.5 percent HR/FB. From here on out, he should be able to provide an ERA in the high 3s, at around 3.80, with a WHIP around 1.30. All told, Garcia rates as a slightly below-average starting pitcher. However, when you can get him for nothing on the waiver wire, he becomes quite the asset. Start him with confidence. This reclamation project could end up acing his test, or at least passing.