Jaime Garcia, a Solid Gamble

The Atlanta Braves made a few pitching acquisitions this winter in the midst of their rebuild. RA Dickey and Bartolo Colon agreed to one year deals worth $8 and $12.5 million each. The pair is expected to provide steady innings to the rotation without the burden of commitment or worry of blocking youth. In addition, they acquired veteran lefty Jaime Garcia, who also only has one year of control left, at $12 million. Depending on how things go, these guys could get traded to contenders midseason, allowing Atlanta to add even more to their already top ranked farm system.

Based on last season’s WAR Colon is arguably underpaid, Dickey is probably making exactly what he’s worth, and Garcia is overpaid. While there’s some volatility in that info for Dickey and Colon, there’s also a fair amount of certainty. They are very much what they are at this point. Garcia, meanwhile, is the wild card of the bunch.  

He’s had serious injuries the last few years that have taken the luster off his game. He seems to have moved beyond them in terms of health but his results have been inconsistent. The injuries he had would typically portend that he’d lose velocity but he actually threw harder than ever last year. His peripherals fell in line with career numbers, too, but he only amassed 1.2 WAR. That’s his lowest full-season mark to date. For reference, he accounted for an additional 1.6 wins in 40 less innings in 2015. It’s a bit arduous to know which Jaime Garcia the Braves will be getting.

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That doesn’t mean there’s no way to look for an answer, though. For Garcia, it could come down to two things. He favors his two-seam fastball and slider when ahead early in counts. The average velocity difference between those pitches for him last year was 8.7 miles per hour. From 2010-12 – his three best seasons by WAR – it was 3.96. If he favors these pitches when establishing leverage in at bats, the increased velo difference could lead you to think hitters had the time to discern between them, particularly since they break in opposite directions.

It’s not frequent that one isolated data point enables full understanding of something in baseball, though. When I was digging for more info, I found two points of note: The Hardball Times showing that velocity isn’t all that important for a slider and Beyond the Boxscore showing that Garcia’s career-high two-seamer/slider MPH difference was way closer to league average than not.

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For as much as the velo difference between Garcia’s two-seamer and slider could have given them away, it probably didn’t. His slider’s movement is actually the more likely culprit. According to Brooks Baseball, he had between -2.15 and -4.66 more inches of horizontal movement than he ever has before. A look at his heatmaps suggests he ultimately located the two pitches the same way he has his whole career. However, combined with the movement data, it seems he limited the threat they create when sequenced one after another. 

Theoretically, Garcia could have been throwing in a way that usually aids strong performance, but I wonder if it was different in a way that he wasn’t particularly comfortable with, making it more awkward than effective. Whether he slows down the heat or speeds up the slider, or looks to reduce the slider movement, wrangling the combo better could revive the Jaime of old.

None of the three top 30 prospects Atlanta dealt to acquire Garcia profile as the kind of difference maker he can be. If he puts it together and is on pace for ~3 WAR again he’ll suddenly be very underpaid. That would leave the Braves with the option to deal him for a better haul or take first crack at signing him to a long-term deal and using his notable experience to anchor a young rotation alongside Julio Teheran. Acquiring him was a solid, classic rebuilding gamble. 

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