In the ten days leading up to the season opener against the Yankees, your friends at BJN will be dropping a #take a day to get you pumped up for the season! Day one: Jaime Garcia
Our first earth-scorching hot take leading up to the Opening Day is that… Jaime Garcia is fine as the fifth starter.
Okay, not really the fire you expected, but I still think it needs to be said because of how poorly Garcia did in a Yankees uniform and the initial reaction to his signing. And the term fine – especially in this context – is definitely subjective. First off, let’s just talk about the type of pitcher that he is. Jaime Garcia is an oft-injured lefty that features a four, sometimes five pitch mix to compensate for the fact that he only sits at 91-92 MPH in most starts. He uses his fastball-sinker mix to induce a lot of ground balls. He’s not quite at Stroman’s perennial 60% clip, but over the past three seasons, his ground ball rate of 57.2% ranks him sixth among all starting pitchers with at least 300 innings pitched.
Obviously there’s the injury history and the notion that because he pitched terribly to the tune of a 4.82 ERA in a Yankees uniform last year, he’ll get rocked in the AL Beast in 2018. But how worried should fans be? For starters, he pitched a whopping 37.1 innings for the Yankees and saw his HR/FB rate go from 12.4% in his time with Atlanta (and that one start in Minnesota) to 20.7% in those 37.1 Yankee innings. Just for reference, Garcia’s mark in the past three seasons is high at 14.6%, but not otherworldly like we saw in New York.
And speaking of sample size: a huge problem that Garcia had in pinstripes was his inability to get ahead of hitters, throwing a first pitch strike just 51.8% of the time. To show you how hard that is to accidentally do throughout the course of a full year, I looked at how many pitchers had a worse number this decade. Of all starting pitchers with at least 100 IP under their belt in a season, only four pitchers threw a first pitch strike 51.8% of the time or less: Francisco Liriano in 2011, Matt Moore and Samuel Deduno in 2013, and Rubby de la Rosa in 2014. That’s four pitchers out of…1079.
What I’m about to say next will come as a shock: the soft-tossing lefty that struggled with his command got his fastball fuckin’ torched. When you can light up the radar gun, you can probably get away with falling behind in counts every so often, but when you throw in the low 90s – like Marco Estrada taught us last year – you will get lit up trying to sneak those fastballs by hitters if they’re waiting for it. Garcia’s isolated slugging percentage against on his hard stuff, both the sinker and four seamer, was .150 in his Braves and Twins starts. Predictably, that number soared to .306 when he was struggling to find the zone on the Yankees.
This spring, Garcia is actually pitching pretty well. The games don’t count and you shouldn’t make too much out of Grapefruit league numbers, but he is consistently keeping the ball on the ground and has only given up one walk in nine innings. If Garcia can avoid constantly falling behind hitters like he did to end his season, I don’t think there’s too much reason to worry.
I know I sound like a certain radio host, and none of what I said should make you believe that he’s getting his first all star nod in 2018, but Garcia as SP5 is fine. Pitching in the AL East will be a challenge, but I don’t think that those struggles to end last year means he’ll get shelled as a Blue Jay. At the very least, I think he’ll be enough to tide you over until Joe Biagini’s ready to start. If he ever is.
For now, Garcia is fine as the fifth starter. Like, really fine. Ross Geller fine.