I admit that I have overlooked Jaime Garcia this offseason. And while our own Michael Canter has mentioned the well-traveled lefty as an option, I think most others have been in the boat with me.
Yu Darvish and Alex Cobb have been connected time and time again with the Cubs throughout this laggy offseason. Some consider them the favorite for the Japanese ace, and others think Cobb’s ties to new Cubs pitching coach Jim Hickey makes him a natural fit. But let’s say the Cubs don’t sign either pitcher, then what?
Garcia might make sense for this Cubs team. He’s sort of like an older version of Tyler Chatwood in that both have a high ceiling and an injury history that justifiably generates skepticism and anxiety. Granted, Garcia’s injuries are perceived to be more severe: He had shoulder surgery in 2013 and thoracic outlet syndrome surgery just a year later, both of which hijacked most or all of his 2013-15 seasons.
Nevertheless, Garcia was once one of the top pitchers in the Cardinals’ rotation, peaking in 2011 with a 3.23 FIP over 194.2 innings. After rehabbing for most of 2013, 2014, and half of 2015, the finesse lefty came back to help lead the Cardinals to the NL Central crown by pitching to a 2.43 ERA and 3.00 FIP in 120.1 innings (but he was knocked around and eliminated by the Cubs in the NLDS, lol).
After 2015, the Cardinals exercised his contract, but he performed below his career averages. As a result, Garcia was dealt to Atlanta in 2016 (ERA: 4.67 ER; FIP: 4.49 FIP; xFIP: 3.77; INN: 171.2) and twice more in 2017 to Minnesota and then the Yankees (ERA: 4.41 ERA; FIP: 4.25; xFIP: 4.18; INN: 157.0). Two seasons of average-ish pitching doesn’t seem desirable, but there’s more to the southpaw than just ERA, FIP, and xFIP.
Garcia is extraordinarily adept at keeping batted balls on the ground and making batters whiff. He burns more worms than a mean-spirited kid with a magnifying glass, posting ground-ball rates of 61.2, 56.7, and 54.8 percent, respectively, in his last three seasons. Only Dallas Keuchel and Marcus Stroman have better grounder rates than Garcia. Pretty good company, I’d say.
But as attractive a feature as that ground-ball rate is, the main reason Garcia is such an appealing option for the Cubs is his special secondary offerings, particularly a divine changeup and sharp slider.
Garcia’s changeup drew more whiffs than 75 percent of like pitches from starters dating back to 2012. Likewise, the southpaw’s slider generated a higher whiff rate than 89 percent of starters’ sliders in that same period. These two pitchers contributed to Garcia’s impressive 75.5 percent contact rate. As a reference, Jake Arrieta’s contact rate was 80.2 percent last year. Yet the former(?) Cubs pitcher put up 8.71 K/9, whereas the Garcia only had 7.39 K/9.
In other words, pitchers with Garcia’s arsenal of plus secondary pitches typically strike more batters out. For whatever reason, he hasn’t been able to maximize his exceptional pitches.
So if Garcia’s whiff rate and grounder rate are so good, why didn’t he prevent more runs and generate more strikeouts? The answer to this question is beyond the scope of this post, but there are some broad explanations we can discuss.
For one, rather than throwing sinkers, Garcia has been throwing more four-seamers than ever in his last three seasons.
That expanded four-seam usage coincided with more extra-base hits. Specifically, the ISO against his four-seamer was .294 and .232 the last two years, respectively. Seems weird that he’d throw a pitch more even when it’s getting pounded around the outfield, right?
Figuring out why Garcia hasn’t been able to translate stellar peripherals to greater success is sort of an enigma, but the stuff is undoubtedly there. If he’s able to figure out how to put it all together, he’d be a great bargain at a fraction of the cost of the top pitchers on the market.
I really believe he’d be a great fit for the Cubs, who will surely have read this post and understand exactly what to leverage in order to unlock that untapped potential.