The Cleveland Indians’ starting rotation is careening towards the “in shambles” state. It’s been that way for a while now.
To put on a number on it:
Over the last 14 days, the Indians’ rotation has the second-highest (5.65) ERA in baseball. The front-end of their rotation—Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir (I know, it’s a stretch)–has been fine. That trio has posted a 3.29 over the last two weeks. So “fine” might be an understatement.
The rest of the group, however, hasn’t been fine. That’s where the trade deadline could come in handy.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports reports that Cleveland is indeed looking to add a pitcher. But they’ve narrowed down their search to a front-end of the rotation starter. Nothing less, nothing more–although, there’s not a “more” option in this case.
The two names that Heyman brought up were Chicago Cubs’ Matt Garza and Milwaukee Brewers’ Yovani Gallardo.
Both Garza and Gallardo fit the bill of front-end of the rotation hurler. Gallardo earns that label by reputation, because his 4.85 in 19 starts isn’t merely a figure an ace compiles. Garza, on the other hand, has a 3.22 ERA, but more recently, he has a 0.97 ERA over his last five starts. His stock has skyrocketed.
I’d throw Gallardo out of the Indians’ plans. He is under control through 2014, but his velocity has waned, and his slider doesn’t have as much bite. And that’s not even including the fact that he will take a haul of good prospects to be pried away from the Brewers.
Now, that isn’t to say that Garza will come cheap either. His latest stretch only makes his price tag more expensive than it was before, which was indeed pricey–at least two good prospects pricey, with the potential for more.
However, Garza is worth the price for the Indians if you consider what they’re up against: The Detroit Tigers, owners of the AL’s best starters’ ERA. In this case, a Joe Saunders or Kyle Lohse-type addition won’t suffice. They need an ace-like hurler, which is where Garza fits.
Let’s get something straight, though: Garza isn’t going to push the Indians’ rotation past the Tigers’ rotation. That’s a given. Cleveland could make three moves and they still wouldn’t have the superior staff. That’s the upside of the Justin Verlander-Max Scherzer-Anibal Sanchez-Doug Fister quartet.
Acquiring Garza would close the gap partially, though. His aforementioned five-game stretch is just a preview of he’s capable of doing when healthy–pure dominance.
The stats wouldn’t suggest that Garza’s been dominant, however. Since breaking into the league in 2006, he’s never had an ERA under 3.00, and just twice in his career has his FIP (Fielding Independent Percentage) been under 4.00.
It’a always been about potential with Garza, but injuries have derailed the right-hander’s development. Per his Baseball Prospectus profile, he missed 69 games with an elbow issue in 2012, 17 games with an elbow issue in 2011 and 15 games in 2008 with, you guessed it, an elbow problem.
These handful of elbow complications certainly weigh into his value, as does the right shoulder injury that caused him to miss 43 games this year.
But Garza seems to have finally tapped into his potential. His various elbow and shoulder issues no longer linger (I’d knock on wood, but that’s just me), and the numbers can vouch.
As pundits and fans often do, I warn you not to look too far into Garza’s velocity decline to determine if he’s healthy, however.
FanGraphs does have his fastball velocity down from 93.6 MPH in 2012 to 92.8 in 2013. That’s deceiving, though, because he didn’t make his season debut until May 21, and his first few starts upon his return saw some low velocity readings–perhaps due to rust. Recently, he’s been averaging out in the high low to mid-93 MPH range.
So the Indians would be catching him at the right time. And they have a glaring need that he could fill: the No. 2 spot in the rotation.
The outlook of Cleveland’s rotation with Garza wouldn’t be drastically different. The obvious boon is two front line starters in Masterson and Garza, which would allow Jimenez to slide down to the No. 3 slot. That gives Cleveland a trio that has some upside, especially if Jimenez catches fire.
The back-end would fill itself out with Corey Kluber (4.23 ERA) or Kazmir (4.74) and Zach McAllister, who’s beginning a rehab assignment after missing over a month with a strained finger on his pitching hand. He had a 3.43 ERA before hitting the DL.
Garza doesn’t make Cleveland’s rotation elite. In fact, it’d be stretch to call it “good” because it would still be top-heavy, except they would be relying on Garza and Masterson, not just Masterson. But if you mix in a few solid starts by the other starters, it’s a serviceable group, just as long as their offense remains productive.
The Indians’ other alternative–continue to ride Masterson– isn’t very wise. It has, however, yielded a 47-44 record. That’s not so bad.
You could say the same thing about 2012, though, and that story didn’t end very well. Cleveland had the seventh-worst starters’ ERA in the first half, and they proceeded to post the worst starters’ ERA in the second half, going from July contenders to fourth-place dwellers by October. That quandary should ring a bell, as it was quite a collapse.
In 2013, Cleveland starters have posted the ninth-worst ERA in baseball. What will the second half bring?
Time will only tell. But acquiring Matt Garza is the least they can do to tighten up their starting pitching woes.