Monday night’s Marlins/Dodgers game in LA garnered a lot of attention, as it was the season debut and first ever start for Dodgers uber-prospect Walker Buehler, but his less-heralded counterpart put up six strong innings for the Marlins, too. Jarlin Garcia actually bumped his ERA up with a 6 IP/1 ER outing as he now sits at a 1.00 ERA through 27 innings. He opened the season with six one-hit innings of relief in that Cubs/Marlins 17-inning epic on March 30th, the second day of the season.
He allowed a pair of runs in another extended relief outing, this time four innings at Philly. The Marlins installed him in the rotation after that and he’s netted some insane results: one run on five hits and eight walks with 12 strikeouts in 17 innings of work. Obviously, we know the 1.00 ERA and 0.81 WHIP won’t sustain. But does he have the skills to remain fantasy relevant even as his 99% LOB and .121 BABIP regress?
Let’s start with the basics. Neither his 20% strikeout nor his 12% walk rate is special. In fact, they are both below average for starts (22% and 9%, respectively). He does have a 47% groundball rate so he’s keeping the ball down better than average, but a pitcher really needs to be in the upper-50s, low-60s for the groundball rate to be a major contact management asset. The left-hander does have three bankable pitches with his fastball, slider, and changeup so he should be able to avoid a drastic platoon split.
The changeup has great results so far. His .313 OPS is 7th-best among the 54 pitchers with at least 60 thrown. His 97 changeups thrown is tied with Felix Hernandez for the 13th-highest total, but only 19 pitchers have thrown at least 90 so I lowered the threshold to expand the pool. He’s 4th in OPS among those 19, by the way. Notice I said it has great results as opposed to saying it’s been a great pitch.
His 12% swinging strike (SwStr%) rate with the pitch is dead-last among that group of 19 pitchers with 90+ changeups and 43rd in the expanded group of 54. Garcia’s changeup also has a below average groundball rate and just doesn’t stand out in any way to support the results. It’s a solid offering, but not otherworldly as these early numbers suggest. The slider has even better results – batters are 0-for-13 with seven strikeouts on 80 thrown – but similarly pedestrian underlying skills: 18% SwStr is exactly average, 28% Chase rate is below average, and 30% Called Strike rate is below average.
Add it all up and Garcia’s .365 xwOBA (a catchall that aims to estimate what the pitcher’s skills and batted balls should’ve netted) is 89th out of 121 pitchers with at least 300 pitches this year. That puts him smack dab in between Marco Gonzales (also .365) and Matt Harvey (.366). For context, Jose Berrios (.217), Rick Porcello (.219), and Patrick Corbin (.223) are pacing the league while Max Scherzer (.246) and Corey Kluber (.254) led baseball last year (min. 2000 pitches). No one has a larger split in their actual and expected wOBA totals than Garcia’s 168-point split. The next largest split is Francisco Liriano at 126 points.
We all know Garcia will fall off this perch, but the degree to which he dips determines his fantasy value and I worry it could be especially sharp in the form of a couple major meltdowns (6+ ER outings). He has some deception to his delivery that lets his 91-93 mph fastball play up, but average-at-best command and control of all three pitches keeps him from having any truly plus offerings. The Marlins should no doubt keep him in the rotation and see if he can continue to develop. However, his best chance at widespread fantasy relevance is probably out of the bullpen. He’s running hot, but you’ve already missed 27 excellent innings. I can’t see better than a low-to-mid 4.00s from here on out.
Here’s a look at the fastball, changeup, and slider from Monday night in LA: