Statistics don’t lie. People do. But there are a lot of statistics out there, and a lot of bloggers, so statics-based lying is at an all time high compared to other types of lying. Consider the following statistics; the Yankees simultaneously rank 24th in both defensive efficiency (DER) and ground-ball-to-fly-ball ratio (gb/fb). This means that their fielding stinks and they pitch a lot of fly-balls (which have a better chance of leaving the park than, say, grounders or bunts). As the season progresses, this is interpreted as boding poorly for playoff longevity. The Yankee blogosphere has manipulated this data to advance their pro-Garza agenda. Liars!
As fate would have it, there just happen to be four really good (if not great) pitchers who are at pivotal contractual moments. At this point, three of them have been written off as not fitting into either short or long term Yankee plans and they are as follows:
- Ryan Dempster; no American League pitching experience renders him a big gamble despite a ridiculous 2.11 ERA and an even more ridiculous 3.28 FIP. He’s a groundball pitcher with great location making him a perfect fit for the dimensions at Yankee Stadium but he’s 35 years old (though age hasn’t exactly been a deterrent for the Yankees before).
- Cole Hamels; he’s having a great year, he’s young, but he’s expensive and wouldn’t fit into long term Yankee financial plans.
- Zack Greinke; he strikes out at least one batter per inning, only 7% of his fly-balls result in home runs, he’s a groundball pitcher with a solid repertoire of four different pitches. He’s right handed, but a quick perusal of pitch f/x data reveals that his pitch location is astounding and he knows how to jam left-handed batters, which would render that short right field porch at Yankee Stadium a real advantage for the Bombers. Unfortunately, the pundits have written him off as a bad fit for Yankee Stadium due to his well-publicized issues with Social Anxiety Disorder. On the other hand, unless said pundits are named “Freud”, perhaps they should leave matters of psychology to the experts. As it turns out, Greinke’s disorder is triggered in small social settings, like parties, which engender close personal contact. Furthermore, he’s been getting therapy and he’s been pitching quite well in both the American and National leagues over the past few years.
Matt Garza, on the other hand, is easily the worst of the lot – but he’s still good. His 4.02 ERA and 4.17 FIP are ridiculous – not Ryan Dempster-ridiculous, rather, awful-ridiculous – but in light of his career .385 ERA and 4.00 FIP, they are also anomalous. Worse, he has never pitched well at Yankee Stadium and his overall record against the Yankees is 1-3 with a career 4.48 ERA against them. I’ve never forgiven him for throwing at (and hitting!) Mark Teixeira in retaliation for Joba Chamberlain’s brush-back of Evan Longoria back in 2009. Certainly, in the past, he has pitched for the team of darkness (the Rays – that’s their full name, “Rays of Darkness” formerly “The DEVIL Rays”) whereas in pinstripes, he’d be pitching for the team of light and all that is good. Still, this year 16.3% of his fly-balls result in home runs, of which he has given up 15 so far (which bodes poorly for the dimensions at Yankee Stadium). In 2010, his last year as a Ray, and his last year pitching in the AL East, he gave up 28. His fault lines, in other words, are trending in a bad direction.
On the plus side, much has been made about his AL East experience and his career 3.86 ERA in the AL East. Garza pitched well against the Boston teams of old, going 7-4 against them, with a 5-3 record at Fenway Paak (sorry, make that “Park”). Furthermore, he beat them twice during the 2008 ALCS. He has pitched well against the rest of the AL East as well, and since none of those teams are exactly out of contention just yet, this is not exactly meaningless.
Unfortunately, there are only two pro-Garza arguments that make more sense than simply doing nothing by July 31st. First, he’s good and the Yankees simply need good-pitching. They don’t need great pitching, just better-than-Garcia pitching. While I actually like Freddy Garcia, and while I have great confidence in Joe Girardi’s ability to get the most out of his pitching staffs, a Garcia-less post season starting rotation is more inspiring than one that is Garcia-ful. Second, whereas Garza is prone to mental implosions and giving up the long ball of late, both phenomena are linked to teams with notoriously low batting averages. The Rays in 2010 batted .247 and the Cubs so far in 2012 are batting .249. The Yankees, by contrast rank fifth in team batting average (.265), rank third in the major leagues in runs scored and first in home runs with 149. Such firepower might enable Garza to pitch with something he hasn’t had much experience with of late; a lead.
There is also the argument that acquiring Garza prevents him from falling to the Red Sox (who, until very lately, seemed to be interested). The Bleacher Report went so far as to argue that Garza would save their season. To the extent that Red Sox pitching couldn’t get worse, I agree. On the other hand, the Red Sox lead the league in Runs Scored and their batting order compares favorably to that of the Yankees. It would stand to reason that if Garza has historically had difficulty with the Yankees’ lineup, his success against the “new and improved” Boston Red Sox would be limited (were he pitching for the Yankees). In that light, I say, let the “Sowx” have him.
To be honest, I’ve not read the new collective bargaining agreement from beginning to end. Actually, I haven’t read any of it, but it is my understanding that entry into the post season will still be a function of won-lost records as opposed to defensive metrics rankings. In that light, the Yankees have the best record in baseball and seemed poised for another post-season berth. Since the playoffs are all about which team gets hot prior to the post-season, I’d be ok if the Yankees did nothing by July 31st, and simply prayed to the baseball gods for the manifestation of Andy Pettitte’s scheduled return.
But, if I were Brian Cashman, or rather, if Mark Panuthos were running the Yankees (and Brian Cashman was typing up his BBD column while waiting for his 1981 Yugo to be repaired in a bad section of town in an auto shop called “Shady’s”), I’d be thinking long term and go after Zack Greinke. A trade for Garza wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, but it’s a short term fix. The Yankees need to start thinking long term with regard to pitching. Joe Girardi’s “Franken-Pitcher” starting rotation can’t keep up like this forever (can it?). A rotation with Sabathia first and Greinke second, followed by Nova, Pettitte, and Hughes (June- and July- Hughes, not April- and May- Hughes) would be pretty intimidating going into 2013. On the other hand, a 2013 rotation of Sabathia, followed by some ordering of Garza, Nova, Pettitte and Hughes, not so much. All of which begs the question: should Yankee management be worrying about how to get the best pitcher playing on the field or playing psychiatrist on a field that positions their pitcher 60.5 feet away from the closest player? Let’s hope they stay focused on baseball, rather than psychology, by the end of the month.