Matt Garza is easily one of the most difficult pitchers in fantasy to project right now, I think. Where to start? It doesn’t help that we have no idea where he’ll be calling home in 2014, and in the world of fantasy, which uses raw and rarely-if-ever park-adjusted stats, it’s a huge difference in how we value him depending on if he’s say, a Rockie as a opposed to a Padre. (Not that I think he’ll be either, of course. Put on the spot, I’d say he ends up as an Angel if they miss out on Masahiro Tanaka.)
But okay, you can live with the fact that you don’t know where he’ll be yet, because that will almost certainly be resolved before 98% of drafts. Yet what you won’t know is how much you can really count on him to be healthy, can you? Injuries to his elbow (2012) and lat (2013) limited him to only 42 starts over the last two seasons, and he missed a few weeks with right elbow soreness during 2008 and 2011, as well. It helps, of course, that Garza took his regular turn after his delayed start to the 2013 season. Still, it’s not exactly a great track record.
There’s also this: I know that WAR is imperfect for pitchers and generally irrelevant in fantasy, but if you want a quick-and-dirty way to combine performance and availability — since it is a counting stat, not a rate stat — well, here you have it:
One of these things does not look like the others.
If that 2011 really stands out as an outlier, it should. For his entire career Garza’s FIP has landed between 3.88 and 3.42, repeatedly coming in at the 4.15ish range. For that one year, he actually brought it down to 2.95. That great year actually had nothing to do with BABIP, which was higher than usual for him, but because he basically stopped allowing home runs. In a career that has routinely seen his HR/9 come in between 1.10 and 1.30, it was merely 0.64 that year, and he pushed his swinging strike percentage above 10% — all the way to 11.2% — for the only time in his career.
Since that 2011 breakout, his swinging-strike rate has held steady at 9.8 while his K/9 has fallen from 8.95 to 8.33 to 7.95. More importantly, the home runs have returned, back to 1.30 and 1.16, and it really can’t be overstated how much that 2011 0.64 was an out-of-nowhere fluke.
So what’s the good news? There seems to be a perception that — like Ryan Dempster in 2012 — Garza was a complete disappointment after being traded from the Cubs to the Rangers. From the Texas point of view, considering how much they had to give up for him only to fall short of the playoffs, perhaps he was. But of course, the entire Rangers team faded badly down the stretch before a final-week burst of life, and while a 4-5 record and 4.38 ERA with Texas doesn’t look great, the truth is Garza was essentially the same pitcher he had been with the Cubs, save for a slight HR bump and BABIP inrease:
“6-1” to “4-5” still holds some weight, I suppose.
Going forward, it’s important to classify Garza as what he is, not what that 2011 indicated he could be. His combined 2013 3.82 ERA and 3.88 FIP are extremely close to his career totals of 3.84 and 3.98, which are solid, though hardly elite. The declining strikeout rate remains a concern, but watch closely where he lands. If it’s somewhere that suppresses homers, he looks considerably more appealing. If it’s a homer haven, devalue him appropriately. (“You could say that for any pitcher, Mike.” I know. It’s especially relevant for Garza.)
Assuming no new health issues, Garza seems like a decent bet to post 180 innings with 10-12 wins and an ERA in the 3.80 range, again dependent on where he ends up, and that’s a worthwhile pitcher to have on your roster. It’s just not someone you want to over-extend your self to get, as some pitching-needy team is all but certainly about to do in the real world.