13 August 2015

Yes, Orioles Should Keep Jason Garcia In The Bullpen

This past Sunday, the Orioles found themselves with a choice between extreme lefty specialist Brian Matusz or Jason Garcia in the bottom of the 11th with one man on and two outs.  The next three batters were Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, and David Murphy.  Buck decided to push the winning run to third by intentionally walking both Trout and Pujols for Matusz to face the left handed Murphy.  It was basically a one in four shot of getting out of the inning, which I would argue was the best scenario for Matusz and it was likely a better situation than having Garcia face Trout or Pujols.  It did not work out, Murphy hit a long season and the Orioles fell to the Angels.  In response, there was a lament for Tommy Hunter.

This past Wednesday, another game went into extra innings.  Such affairs generally tax a bullpen.  It surely did not help that Tillman was chased in the third and the bullpen had to keep it together.  In the end, the Orioles relied on MehFarland with Darren O'Day in reserve.  Garcia apparently was not an option, which is understandable given that it was a high leverage situation.  At this point, one might argue that not much is great down in Norfolk to replace Garcia with Chaz Roe down and Mychal Givens up, but someone like Oliver Drake (recently voted by players and managers as the best reliever in the International League) should be able to be passable.

This leaves us with a general question as to why exactly is Garcia here?  Since coming off the DL after experiencing a dead arm issue this Spring and going through a laborious month-long rehab stint in the minors where his velocity improved but did not get back to the upper 90s, Buck has seemingly gone out of his way to not pitch Garcia.  He has appeared in one game in a blowout situation.  It appears the arm issue is still present because Garcia has not warmed up in consecutive games.

This is a problem.  As it stands, Garcia is a junk inning pitcher.  His value is essentially at replacement level if not slightly below.  That would be fine as a junk inning pitcher, but he hurts the club in that he cannot save the bullpen by pitching multiple innings and there appears to be no rubber in his arm.  That kind of role is best served by someone who can be very flexible in innings and when they appear.  It was what helped T.J. McFarland stick with the club and why it was largely thought that Garcia would eventually be sent back to the Red Sox organization.

That said, you can see why the organization wants Garcia.  Though he has had injury issues, he has a live arm when healthy that produces a loud upper 90s fastball and a curveball with plus potential.  He is a valid late inning power arm prospect, which the Orioles are in short supply.  If the Rule 5 status was not keeping him on the active roster, he would be pitching for the Orioles in Frederick or, perhaps, trying to work through things in Bowie.  The general expectation is that he would be ready for prime time around late 2017, which is an example of showing that Dan Duquette cares to some degree to continue building to the future instead of using a more stable bullpen.  Of course, that stability we are discussing is about the last man in the pen and that position is rarely consequential. 

Anyway, Garcia has to make it to September 1st.  To remain on the club and be optionable for next season, he needs to be on the active roster for 90 days.  If he finishes the season, he bests that mark by seven days.  In other words, he cannot go back on the DL again.

This leaves us with the question about what the Orioles should do moving forward.  Should they cut their losses and discard a fringe late inning power arm prospect in exchange for a more dependable junk inning pitcher or should they keep hiding him on the roster?  The bullpen was exposed this past week as a product of the club having its sixth and seventh extra inning games of the season within four days of each other in combination with a starter being chased early.  The likelihood of that happening again would seem quite remote.  Second, the last guy in the bullpen typically would see about one game every seven to ten days, which is what Garcia has seen. 

It is also hard to imagine that the next best guy would have performed differently in those given game situations.  Would Drake or Givens be much better facing Trout or Pujols than Matusz was facing Murphy?  Would Drake deliver a significantly better performance than McFarland did on Wednesday?  Those two events do not exactly seem to have been greatly affected by Garcia on the roster.  You could argue that Tommy Hunter would have been nice in those situations and I would agree with that.  However, the club effectively dealt Hunter for Parra, so that ship has departed the dock.  It also seems a bit conservative to bring up Drake to protect the bullpen from the scenario this past week, which is unlikely to occur again over the next two and a half weeks.

In the end, Garcia does make the club weaker, but that additional negative value is quite small and likely inconsequential.  The determination of the Orioles making the playoffs is more likely to reside with how well the starting pitchers pitch as opposed to how well the club covers them when an early exit is made.  The scouts were quite enamored with what they saw in Garcia in 2014 and the front office appears to have bought into it even though Garcia has not been that guy in 2015.  If you have trusted the process that has led to the Orioles making the playoffs in two of the past three years, then you should probably trust the process here as there are many factors we do not know.  And, the factors we do know, we should recognize that they are largely inconsequential for the role Garcia is seemingly assigned.

In fact, if you think the club needs a more flexible arm in the pen, then I would suggest that the team could make due with a short bench over the near term.  Junior Lake and Nolan Reimold are largely redundant.  If that need for an arm is present, then optioning Lake and bringing up a guy like Drake makes sense.  Moreso, a move like that does little to impact the flexibility of the batting lineup.


Joe Reisel said...

I've thought for a while that the drafting of a young player a long way from the majors in Rule 5, hiding him on the major-league roster for a year, and then optioning him in the future isn't a good strategy. The player rarely plays much during his post-Rule 5 year, and then typically is optioned to whatever level would be appropriate. Last year, Jason Garcia was a 21-year-old in Class A. Next year, though, he'll be a 23-year-old in Advanced Class A coming off a year in which he pitched about 40 innings, which looks a lot less attractive. For every Johan Santana, it seems that there are about twenty players whose careers are ruined.

Jon Shepherd said...

That said, I would be more concerned with position players. I think a lost year of development for a position player is much more meaningful because they go through so many different scenarios. Pitching is more straight forward. It is more akin to a pitcher losing a year to injury, which is troublesome but not exactly a great impact on their future development.

The same idea is in play about bringing up a young guy to ride the bench for the year or get him at bats in AAA. For a pitcher, it seems to be, and the conventional wisdom in the industry follows, not a big deal.

Anonymous said...

Jon, I can't understand your logic.
Garcia has been in the minors for so long he was eligible for the Rule 5. He advanced only one level and was demoted again( that is, if there's a difference between "A" and "A-". Otherwise he hasn't been promoted beyond A.)
His strikeouts have improved but only against other inexperienced A-ball players.
He hasn't improved enough to move up even to AA.
Control is far more important than mere raw velocity.
Garcia has demonstrated exactly zero improvement.
Based on his past, I cannot imagine him ever being a legit big-leaguer, and he has already cost the Orioles possibly two games, because Buck won't use him except in garbage time.
By taking up a spot, he causes problems even if he doesn't play, and for a team that is struggling to even win back-to back games, I can't imagine that being a logical choice. There's 17 games till September, how many will we lose because we want to let this fellow spend the rest of his career in Bowie?

Jon Shepherd said...

Anon - How many games will the Orioles lose because of Garcia being in the bullpen? Probably none. The last person in your bullpen is rarely put into meaningful situations except when the bullpen is taxed. So, maybe in extra inning games. There might be one or two of those. Deployed properly, maybe he contributes to a loss in one or maybe even both. Again, though, those are low probability events and it seems some folks may be looking at the recent past and somehow thinking going forward that the club will have a third of their games going into extra innings.

Regarding young power pitchers with control issues...that is a pretty common issue with guys with live arms. Your description of him seems a bit narrow and not indicative of how development happens. Linear development is in fact a rarity. That population of players with hard fastballs and some wildness will have individuals that emerge and become late inning guys. Off the top of my head, eh, maybe Joakim Soria and Alexi Ogando if we just cherry pick the Rule 5 pool. Anyway, the club saw a lot of things they liked in him when he switched to relief last year. The club also has a dearth of power arms in the minors. Again, the last guy in the bullpen is a junk arm almost always and the difference between your typical junk guy and Garcia is not much. The issue really is that it appears Garcia is still recovering.

Again, there are far more meaningful issues that plague this club.

Anonymous said...

Your last sentence is accurate but irrelevant because we're talking about Garcia and not about those other issues.
It seems that you are insinuating that Garcia is no worse than any of the other options that would be available, and I must strongly disagree.
It would be extremely easy for any of the healthy arms in the high minors to do better than Garcia, who is useless except in garbage time.
His potential future upside is doubtful, based upon his past which involved exactly zero progress.

Jon Shepherd said...

It is that where he occupies is of little importance. And yes he has shown progress which is why the front office wants him.

Anonymous said...

Keeping Garcia looks like a "build for the future" move, though... given the benefit of hindsight, perhaps the front office should have conducted a fire sale by the trade deadline? (As things now stand, we're practically looking at a 82-84 win season and a slower rebuild process for 2016 and on-- a lose-lose scenario in my opinion.)

Anonymous said...

If Garcia accumulates 2 career WAR, I'll be astonished. In four(?) years in the minors, he could not fix his problems enough to even make AA.
Does the idea of letting him work with the B-more coaches really inspire confidence?
Some hard throw/no control guys have indeed been successful. You mentioned two, I think? Out of how many?
garcia might end up being worth all this fuss, though I doubt it, but I want the team to win, which means even the seventh guy in the pen has to be competent, and Garcia, despite his ceiling, currently isn't.

Jon Shepherd said...

I am unsure why you think Garcia has not progressed as a prospect unless all you are assessing are minor league stats and his performance with an injury this season.

Colonel Bob said...

I have heard the thought from the front office that Garcia is really a AA pitcher, but Boston stashed him in A to diminish his value.

Jon Shepherd said...

Maybe. I have not heard that. He was promising but not exactly killing his HiA competition last year. Orioles were very fond of him from a scouting perspective as opposed to performance, which is common with power arms.

Anonymous said...

Jon, in four years he hasn't progressed. Even if he's "really" a AA pitcher, is that significant progress?
I'm not a prospect expert at all, so I really don't know what the typical advancement rate is. Is his progress average?
Yes I was assessing his minor league stats. What else can one assess?
How many hard throwing guys with no control fail? What makes the brass think Garcia won't?
I don't know, but it sure seems that hurting the big league club for such a gamble is a pretty dumb move.
And he sure seems to have given no indication of future success.

Jon Shepherd said...

As I mentioned, you are relying on statistics which is not the information the team is acting on. They are relying on a set of information that you do not have.