In general, Yankees fans tend to be impatient. They don’t like having a merely adequate player at the bottom of the lineup or as a 5th starter. And, if someone gets hurt (which has been far too common this season), it’s expected of the replacement to not miss a beat.
When Andy Pettitte broke his ankle on June 27th, Freddy Garcia returned to the rotation after being removed in April due to poor performance. Some people clamored for David Phelps to take over after pitching very well in relief. As the deadline approached, the Yankees were in on now Rangers pitcher Ryan Dempster, but talks really never got too serious. Despite plenty of people calling for his head, Garcia has been extremely serviceable since rejoining the rotation. He won his 150th career game yesterday, so the track record is there as well (Yes I understand W/L for a SP is meaningless, but it shows longevity in this case).
Before dissecting his performance since getting back into the rotation in July, let’s recap just how bad he was in April. In 13 2/3 innings, he allowed 19 earned runs (12.51 ERA) and 3 home runs. He allowed 25 hits and walked 5. This was good for an astounding .474 wOBA against, with batters absolutely clobbering the ball off him to a tune of a 42.3% line drive rate, inflating his BABIP to .440 and opponent BA to .391. Normally, a BABIP that high signals bad luck, but the line drive rate makes it pretty clear that batters were teeing off Garcia. This abysmal performance made it easy to take Garcia out of the rotation in favor of Pettitte when he first joined the Yankees in 2012.
Freddy actually pitched well out of the bullpen, posting a 1.56 ERA and 2.97 FIP in 17 1/3 innings, much in thanks to cutting down on the long ball and reducing line drive rate to 13.7%, bringing his season rate closer to career rate of 20.5%.
Once Pettite went down, Garcia capitalized on the opportunity, making his first start back in the rotation against Tampa on July 2nd. He tossed 5 1/3 innings and allowed 2 runs in a no decision (Yankees lost 4-3). Since then, he’s made 7 starts, allowing no more than 3 runs each time except on July 19th vs. Oakland when he allowed 4.
By my count, if Pettitte returns around September 15th, Garcia has at most 7 starts left (there are 3 off days so he could be skipped, cutting it down to 4). This begs the question, can Garcia continue his respectable run? It may not even matter, given the fact that he could be skipped 3 times. However, during the dog days of August, it might not be a bad time to give some starters an extra day of rest to keep them fresh, especially with a comfortable 7 game division lead in the loss column.
The answer is yes, Freddy can be trusted to hold down the 5th spot through 7 more starts. Since July, all 3 ERA estimators are basically in agreement: FIP at 4.10, xFIP at 4.22, and SIERA at 4.26. He’s only slightly outpitched these metrics with a 3.95 ERA, but I doubt any realistic Yankee fan would be unhappy with an ERA between 4.10 and 4.26 the rest of the way. Think about it this way, he could allow 3 runs in 6 innings every start the rest of the way (4.50 ERA), and the Yankees would probably win nearly all of those games.
It’s not like Freddy has gotten lucky since rejoining the rotation, either. Take a look at his stat line since July 2nd compared to the rest of the season, and keep in mind the season row at the bottom excludes his 17 1/3 innings as a reliever. Additionally, note that many of his numbers in April are incredibly poor thanks to a sample size of 13 2/3 innings.
His BABIP is .315 and line drive rate is 24.2% since July 2nd. Meanwhile, his career BABIP is .285 and line drive rate is 20.5%. This may indicate the Garcia is still due for some additional improvement. We should though compare these metrics over his past two full seasons as a starter, considering he was more of a power pitcher in his early days with Seattle, and he only made 23 starts from 2007 through 2009. His BABIPs in 2010 and 2011 were .290 and .292, and line drive rates 21.1% and 22.3%, all above overall career averages. All told, since rejoining the staff, he has gotten slightly unlucky on batted balls. Regardless, he’s been able to sustain himself by stranding runners at a 78% clip, above is 73% career mark, along with 71% in 2010 and 77% last season. If anything, we can expect his strand rate to regress slightly, and his BABIP to improve. The combination of these two occurrences essentially cancel each other out.
Ultimately, there’s nothing to worry about when it comes to Sweaty Freddy. His ERA estimators are all in line and he may even still be getting slightly unlucky on batted balls. He’s more than held his own since July, and should be able to continue through mid-September. Yes, David Phelps has been impressive with a 2.50 ERA and 3.10 SIERA this season, but he would need to be stretched out again,. Plus, Phelps could emerge into a solid middle relief option if he continues this performance. Lastly, Dempster would have been an upgrade too, but would the cost truly be worth it? Barring additional injury, Garcia isn’t going to make any playoff starts anyway.With the way Garcia has handled the spot, it’ll be easier to not rush Pettitte back. It’s essential to get Andy 100% for the postseason, and with the way Garcia has thrown, there’s no reason to push Pettitte. Yes, X-Rays looked good yesterday, but at the same time, nobody wants another setback. Barring an unforeseen and sudden decline in performance, Garcia is the best option for the next month and a half.
Photo by Keith Allison [CC-BY-SA-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons