Matt Garza has pitched 3 straight seasons of 180+ innings with an ERA under 4.00 in the AL East. Yes, the same AL East that included the two MLB teams (Red Sox and Yankees) that scored the most runs, had the highest OBP, and highest SLG over that three year span. Add the Blue Jays to the mix and you have the three teams that had the three highest homerun totals in 2010. There is no doubt the AL East has boasted the toughest lineups for opposing pitchers over the last three years but, despite this, Matt Garza was able to show consistent results. He has accomplished these results before reaching his 27th birthday. This offseason Garza was traded to the Cubs and will be moving to the NL. You would assume this league switch would only add to his fantasy value, but let’s take a closer look at its total impact.
The talent advantage the AL enjoys over the NL is now generally accepted. NL pitchers also have the obvious advantage of pitching to other NL pitchers a few times per game. For the 2010 season, NL teams averaged about 16 total runs less than AL teams. From a fantasy perspective these are not secrets and will be on every owners’ mind come draft day. What I am concerned with are a few less noticed facts that may offset these advantages and give reason to be more careful with Garza on draft day.
Most people mention Petco Park or Citi Field when they speak of obvious pitcher friendly ballparks but you don’t hear Tropicana Field, home of the Rays, in that discussion often. In fact, the Trop ranked as the friendliest pitchers’ park in the majors in 2010 and has consistently been one of the more pitcher friendly major league parks over the past four seasons. In 2010, the Trop depressed runs by 20% as compared to the major league average. In contrast, Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs, inflated runs by 17% in 2010 and has been consistently at the top of the list in run inflation each year. In 2010, Wrigley was 46% more hitter friendly than the Trop. Strictly from a homerun perspective, Wrigley favored the hitter by 21% over the Trop. How much will this hurt Garza? According to Fangraphs in 2010, of the 92 pitchers that qualified, Garza had the 10th highest flyball percentage. In 2009, he was also 10th out of 77 pitchers. In an environment of both inflated runs and homeruns the last thing you want as a pitcher is extreme flyball tendencies. To further illustrate the Trop’s effect on Garza’s numbers let’s look at his ERA home/road splits for the past three seasons:
Year Home Road
’08 2.89 4.53
’09 3.24 4.85
’10 3.51 4.27
It must also be mentioned that Garza’s xFIP was not lower than 4.20 at home for any of those three seasons. It’s not difficult to come to the conclusion that his home ballpark’s tendencies played a role in his home success.
Garza’s ERAs have outperformed both his FIP and xFIP during each of the last three seasons. That is, his fielding dependent ERA has outperformed his fielding independent ERA. The apparent cause of this outperformance is his BABIPs of .270, .273, and .272 for the 2008, 2009, and 2010 seasons. These are consistently low BABIPs as compared to the league average of around .310. It is especially important to notice since we know pitchers have little to no control over their BABIP. The credit for these BABIPs should instead be given to the Rays defense. In terms of UZR/150, the Rays have finished the 2008, 2009, 2010 seasons ranked 1st, 4th, and 7th respectively in the major leagues. In those same seasons their pitching staff has finished the season with the 1st, 7th, and 2nd lowest BABIPS in the majors. It is obvious that the Rays have fielded (pun intended) a great defense over the last three seasons and that has caused their pitchers to benefit in the BABIP category, Garza included.
Can Garza continue to put up these abnormally low BABIPs switching from a consistently great defensive team to one that has posted below average UZR numbers each of the last two seasons? It’s difficult to say, but if I had to choose a side I would bet against it. It’s also difficult to say whether the positives of the switch in leagues and absence of the DH will outweigh the negatives of Garza’s new home ballpark effects and the defense playing behind him. But there may be fantasy owners out there that are only considering a piece of the puzzle instead of the whole picture.