Among the early “hot stove” chatter topics is Jaime Garcia’s option. It’s been pretty much a foregone conclusion that the team won’t pick up the $12-million option. In some ways, Jamie has become a kind of poster boy for the disappointment of the 2016 season.
In a recent post at CardsBlog, Rohan Gupta makes a fairly convincing case for keeping him. While there are several well-argued points that he makes, this is probably the most important statement in the piece:
“Garcia’s woes became exaggerated because they happened to occur in the midst of a tight pennant race. He cost them valuable games down the stretch, and that made his struggles all the more frustrating. But the Cardinals can’t allow that frustration to prompt a mistake for next year.”
One of the obligations that management always has is not to make decisions based on emotion. Everyone is disappointed in how the end of 2016 went for Garcia. But that disappointment shouldn’t serve as the basis for this decision. So, for a couple of minutes, let’s look at what little we know for sure about Jaime Garcia and make our best guess about his future.
About the only thing that I can absolutely say we know is that Garcia has devastating stuff. More than one of the members of the Cardinal family has declared that Jaime has the best stuff on the team (I haven’t heard that since Alex Reyes was promoted, but at the very least Jaime has the second best stuff on the staff).
In any given game that Garcia pitched, you would see at least one unhittable pitch from the talented left-hander. We know that he can be dominant. What we don’t know is why he is dominant some days and a batting practice pitcher on others.
I maintain that no one on the staff – least of all Garcia himself – knows how to get him to a level of consistency representative of his talent level. In the above referenced article, Gupta tries to support the belief that Garcia’s 2016 was nearly as good as his 2015 season until fatigue took over when he reached his innings level from 2015. It’s an interesting argument, but doesn’t quite hold.
In 2015 Jaime never had consecutive starts that failed to qualify as a quality start until after he hit the 100 inning mark. In 2016 he never managed more than two consecutive quality starts. One hundred innings got him through 15 starts in 2015 – 12 of them quality starts. His first 100 innings of 2016 made it through 17 starts, of which only 7 were quality. His ERA at the end of 100 innings in 2015 was 1.89. At the 100 inning mark of 2016, that ERA was 4.01.
Jaime’s season, in fact, had three phases. He had a solidly good beginning (which lasted seven starts). In those first 7 starts he managed 1 complete game and 3 quality starts. He allowed just 28 hits in his first 45.1 innings (only 2 of them home runs), while walking 15 and striking out 48. He was 3-2 during that span with a 2.58 ERA.
For the next 16 starts, Jaime was just a middling-to-below-average hurler. Only 6 of his next 16 starts would be quality starts and over his next 92 innings he would give up 107 hits (11 of them home runs), walking 28 and striking out 66. He was 6-6 during those games with a 4.60 ERA.
For his last 9 games (7 of them starts) he was just bad. He managed just 1 quality start over that stretch, allowing 44 hits and 13 home runs in just 34.1 innings. He walked 14 and struck out 36 in those games on his way to a 1-5 record and a 7.60 ERA. Fatigue could have something to do with the steep drop off at the end, but no twisting of the numbers can color Jaime’s season as anything other than mediocre.
Rather than fatigue, a more likely factor in Garcia’s late season struggles was the importance of the games. One of the very strong tendencies throughout Jaime’s career has been a consistent inability to rise to the occasion in big games. Which games should be counted as big games is subjective enough that it’s difficult to quantify, although I submit for consideration his 0-3 postseason record with its artificially deflated ERA of 3.94. I say deflated because all five runs charged to him in his two-inning meltdown in last year’s playoffs were unearned (due to his own throwing error).
If anecdotal evidence is admissible in this court, I offer the relief effort that won him one more turn as a starter. On September 21, Jaime came into a game in Colorado. Luke Weaver – making his last start of the season – had lasted only 2 innings and left Garcia with a 6-1 deficit. For the next four innings, Jaime dazzled the Rockies. He needed just 47 pitches to clear those innings, allowing only a two-out single to DJ LeMahieu in the fourth. He struck out five along the way.
Five days later he made his last start of the season against Cincinnati. It was game number 156 and pretty much do or die for the Cardinals. He lasted one eventful 21-pitch inning against the Reds, during which he served up two home runs and two other hits, starting the Cards on the path to a costly 15-2 loss.
Was fatigue a factor? I don’t think so. As a long man, Jaime faced no real pressure. The team was already down five runs in the third inning. He could just go out there and throw the ball. When he faced the Reds five days later, the team needed the win.
This might be the most critical reason why I hope the Cards cut their ties with Jaime this offseason. Is there a chance that Garcia could return to the effectiveness of 2015? I consider it remote, but I concede the chance. But if that should happen and if the Cards should find themselves back in the playoffs, Mike Matheny would be almost morally obligated to give him a playoff start.
And that’s an option we can all do without.