clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

2017 Yankees Season Review: Jaime Garcia

New, comments

Spoiler: this is not a glowing review.

MLB: New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays
same tbh
Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports

On July 30, 2017, the Yankees traded pitching prospects Dietrich Enns and Zach Littell to the Minnesota Twins in exchange for Jaime Garcia. At the time, I was okay with the trade. I wasn't excited by any means, but the Yankees didn't give up any prospects of note, and Garcia was likely to be better than their previous 5th starters. I mean, Garcia had a 2.43 ERA and a 3.00 FIP as recently as 2015; of course he'd be an upgrade over the likes of Luis Cessa or Caleb Smith. Or so I thought.

There's no sugarcoating this one: Garcia was bad. In eight starts with the Yankees, Garcia went 0-3 with a 4.82 ERA and a 4.87 FIP. His K and ground ball rates were good, but every other peripheral stat suggested that his terrible performance was totally earned.

Particularly troubling was Garcia's utter inability to eat innings. In his time in pinstripes, Garcia completed six innings in exactly zero starts. Nada. Zip. Once hitters had seen enough of Garcia, it was batting practice. His ERA in the first time through the order was 2.45; in the second time through it was 4.73, and in the third time through it was 7.71. Every time he started, it was a given that the bullpen would get a workout. That's pretty bad, even for a fifth starter.

What went wrong for Garcia? I'm tempted to say everything, but for the sake of brevity I'm going to focus on three main issues. The first one is his inability to keep the ball in the park. Like many pitchers this year, Garcia came down with a case of acute dinger-itis, posting a HR/9 rate of 1.45 with the Yankees. In his prime, Garcia was known for generating grounders and limiting home runs. Those traits allowed Garcia to succeed without elite strikeout or walk rates. The erosion of these skills, along with pitching in Yankee Stadium, led to his homer rate (and consequently his ERA) ballooning.

Secondly, and related to the first issue, Garcia's sinker started to suck. In his glory days with the Cardinals, Garcia's sinker was his bread and butter. The pitch was crucial for his core skills: getting ground balls and preventing homers. However, according to Pitch Info's Pitch Values (which you can find on Garcia's player page on FanGraphs), Garcia's sinker was his worst pitch in 2016. In 2017, his sinker enjoyed a modest rebound in effectiveness with the Braves, but in 37.1 innings with the Yankees the pitch was worth negative 3.2 runs. When your best pitch becomes bad, things tend to go south. Garcia was no exception.

Finally, Garcia walked far too many batters. Although Garcia was never known as a control artist, he wasn't wild either. His BB/9 hadn't exceeded 3.00 since 2011. In 2017, however, that mark rose to 3.67 overall, and 4.82 with the Yankees. Why the sudden increase?

The evidence points to a change in Garcia's pitching strategy, possibly in order to compensate for his declining stuff. Comparing his career heatmap to his time with the Yankees, we see Garcia throwing more balls under the zone. In fact, Garcia's Zone% of 40.0 with the Yankees was easily the worst of his career. My theory is that Garcia, upon realizing that his sinker wasn't generating ground balls like before, tried to avoid contact altogether and get hitters to chase at low sinkers.

The strategy worked partially, as his K rate of 8.92 over that time span was well over his career average. However, it came with the cost of more walks. Add that to a ballooning home run rate and declining stuff, and the cons far outweighed the pros. Reinventing yourself is hard, and Jaime Garcia is prime evidence of that.

Does Garcia have a future on this team? I would say no. Despite the Yankees' needs in the rotation, I'm sure they can do better than Garcia in terms of back-end options. As a 31-year old with an injury history, declining stuff, a plethora of red flags in his peripherals, and an inability eat innings, Garcia's value is extremely limited. Perhaps his future is in the bullpen, as he was relatively effective in that role in his lone playoff appearance in Game 1 of the ALDS. His “time around the order” splits certainly suggest that he could find success in a more limited role. However, I'd like the Yankees to move on from Garcia and let another team try to make use of him. After his 2017, I've seen quite enough of him for a while.

All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs.