Matt Garza long-term issue

Theo Epstein told Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times that the Matt Garza situation is a “big-picture issue” that transcends one week or one year’s worth of statistics.

‘‘Anytime you’re contemplating significant personnel moves, you have to look at the organization as a whole and where you’re going,’’ Theo Epstein said. ‘‘One week’s worth of performance, let alone one season’s worth, doesn’t necessarily impact that significantly.

Nez Balelo, the agent of Matt Garza, will be attending the Chicago Cubs homestand, and the Garza saga has been a hot topic in Chicago for quite some time. Some analysts say that the Cubs should trade Garza when his value is at its highest, while others believe that the team needs to keep their best pitcher.

Apr 12, 2012; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Cubs starting pitcher Matt Garza (22) pitches in the ninth inning against the Milwaukee Brewers at Wrigley Field. The Cubs defeated the Brewers 8-0. Mandatory Credit: David Banks-US PRESSWIRE

The 28-year-old starter is making $9.5 million this season and has one more arbitration year, and Garza is coming off of a career year in 2011 in which he was worth 5 WAR. His previous career high was at 3.1 WAR, and he was only worth 1.6 WAR in the year before while pitching for the Tampa Bay Rays. He has increased his strikeout rate to near 8.25 per nine, as well as cutting down his walk rate to under three per nine.

The projection systems believe that he will be worth about 4 WAR this season and going forward, so the progress he made in 2011 is both legitimate and inflated. He has become a better pitcher, but expect his FIP to be closer to 3.50 than 3.00 going forward (2.95 FIP in 2011). Garza finished with a 3.31 SIERA in 2011 with a 3.55 tERA, so it is difficult to figure out his true value after last season’s breakout year.

The plate discipline statistics tell the story of a pitcher who induced more strikeouts by getting hitters to chase more and throwing more first-pitch strikes. Hitters whiffed on 11.2% of his pitches, which is the first time that Matt Garza had a swinging strike percentage of over 10% in his career. Hitters swung less at pitches inside the zone than they used to against him, which is a testament to his slider that vastly improved in 2011. The contact rate against Garza went down from around 83% to 76.5%, and batters were swinging at his pitches slightly more because of the pitches outside of the zone. The decrease in contact rate was mostly due to less contact made on pitches outside of the zone, which is a great combination for Garza when looking at the increase in O-Swing%.

The big thing to take from last year was a huge increase in groundball percentage from just under 40% to 46.3%, and it will be interesting to see if the changes in 2011 are legitimate. Matt Garza tore it up after a huge down year in 2010, and it seems like his true value is between his previous career high and his 2011 season.

It is difficult to increase one’s effectiveness at getting hitters to chase, decrease their ability to make contact, and inducing groundballs. While it is easy to dismiss his 2011 season, Garza did improve as a pitcher and changed his approach to the game. He is worth 4-4.5 WAR going forward, and his health and consistency show that he can succeed on a long term deal.

I expect him to have a 3.30 ERA going forward, and below is a quick breakdown on Matt Garza. His pitch selection has changed, his ability to put the ball on the ground is encouraging, and his ability to get punchouts is legitimate as well. He is close to a 5 WAR pitcher, and Garza needs to be locked up.

Matt Garza projection

2013 5 WAR

2014 4 WAR

2015 4 WAR

2016 3 WAR

2017 3 WAR

That gives Matt Garza 19 WAR in total from 2013-2017, or about 3.8 WAR per year. Because his 2013 season is an arbitration year, we can expect him to make just $12 million that year. From then on, his 14 WAR will be worth $63 million over those years. When those totals are added up, he will make $75 million over those five years. That seems like a fair contract for Garza, and he is the Cubs ace and most important player at this point. It would serve them well to lock him up to these terms, as most pitchers his age receive five year contracts of that type. We’ll see what Theo Epstein thinks about Matt Garza as the season wears on, and this is another pitcher whose contract is running out to keep tabs on.

Be sure to check out all of Call to the Pen’s transaction breakdowns for the 2011-12 offseason. You can follow Call to the Pen on Twitter at @FSCalltothePen or like us here on Facebook.

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Topics: Chicago Cubs, Chicago Sun Times, Gordon Wittenmyer, Matt Garza, Nez Balelo, Tampa Bay Rays, Theo Epstein

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