Although the Cubs were weren't any good in 2011, Matt Garza was one of the few Cubs who impressed. Acquired in a blockbuster trade last winter, the Cubs, media and the fans had high expectations entering the season. Not only did he live up to those expectations, he surpassed them. The Cubs and Garza exchanged arbitration salaries a few days ago. The Cubs figure was $7.95 while Garza requested $12.5 million. It's highly unlikely this goes to arbitration. Theo has been to fewer arbitration cases than Jim Hendry and Hendry didn't have his first one until two years ago with Ryan Theriot.
The arbitration figures gives us something interesting to discuss even though I'd bet your life it never reaches an arbitrator. Doing so allows us to look back at his 2012 season so I figured why not add Garza to the few players we've managed to provide season reviews for.
Last year we had projections ranging from a 3.8 to 4.26 ERA. The average was 3.93. Garza had generally had an ERA lower than his FIP and the projections thought 2011 would be the same. They ranged from 3.91 to 4.29 with an average FIP of 4.13. Over 200 innings that would be a 2.9 WAR projection using FIP. It's worth giving credit to commenter GW who was insistent that Garza would beat these projections.
Anybody remember Garza's first 3 starts for the Cubs? 6.27 ERA. 18.2 IP, 27 hits, 7 extra base hits. Batters hit .338/.376/.450. Ugly. 0 home runs. That's the number that many fans were concerned about when he came to the Cubs. He'd been giving up lots of home runs the previous two years and moving to a hitter friendly park like Wrigley might have been ugly. It wasn't. Not at all. He allowed just 14 of them in 198 innings.
You also may remember at one point Garza throwing a small fit and saying he was going to return to the pitch selection he was used to in Tampa Bay. A day or two later he said he was just upset and it's a good thing he didn't revert back to that pitch selection. It's a huge reason why he had the success he did. More on that later.
You can't ignore any starts of course, but once Garza was settled in after those 3 lousy starts, he was dominating. After those ugly starts, he threw 179.1 innings and allowed 159 hits. Batters hit just .234/.296/.338 and he posted a 3.01 ERA.
Why Garza will win the arbitration hearing
Following Garza's 2010 season he agreed to a $5.95 million contract in what was his second year of arbitration. The reason I post numbers from 2009 and 2010 is to show you that when he received that $5.95 million he was coming off a season in which he was a league average pitcher. ERA- is like ERA+ except numbers below 100 are above average. The same is true of FIP- which shows Garza to be quite a bit below average in 2010. League average to slightly below league average earned Garza $5.95 million.
It's now his third time through arbitration and with each trip through the players earns a higher percentage of his free agent value. Had Garza been average this season we could have expected a modest raise to about $7.5 to $8 million. He earned $3.35 million in 2009 and saw a raise of $2.6 million after an average season. Considering he's now a year closer to free agency and earning a higher percentage of his salary, there's little chance even after a league average season that he'd not be earning $8.5 million in 2012. I'd actually put money on Garza earning no less than $8.5 million next year if his 2011 season was average.
He was nothing close to average last season. He was well above average in every way. His ERA was 16% better than league average and his FIP 26% best. He set a career high K%, his walk rate remained the same and his K-BB% is quite impressive. The averages and OBPs the last three years have been about the same, but the slugging allowed was considerably better.
Another thing in favor of Garza is the year to year correlation of various metrics.
We saw an increase in K% and significant changes to his batted ball tendency. These have a very high correlation from year to year.
Garza also proved he was the best starting pitcher on the Cubs. That had not been the case in Tampa Bay and wouldn't have been had he remained there. I have no idea how much value there is to this, but it's certainly something Garza's representatives will point out if it reaches a hearing. Here's the critera for arbitration hearings.
(a) The criteria will be the quality of the Player’s contribution to his Club during the past season (including but not limited to his overall performance, special qualities of leadership and public appeal), the length and consistency of his career contribution, the record of the Player’s past compensation, comparative baseball salaries (see paragraph (13) below for confidential salary data), the existence of any physical or mental defects on the part of the Player, and the recent performance record of the Club including but not limited to its League standing and attendance as an indication of public acceptance (subject to the exclusion stated in subparagraph (b)(i) below). Any evidence may be submitted which is relevant to the above criteria, and the arbitration panel shall assign such weight to the evidence as shall appear appropriate under the circumstances.
I can't speak for Cubs fans in general, but I do know that I enjoyed watching Garza pitch last season. I gave up watching the Cubs after May, but tuned in for Garza's starts. I can't help but think I'm not alone. It's hard to believe that the Cubs fans who had turned away wouldn't tune in to watch one of the few highlights of the 2011 season.
Why Garza will lose the arbitration hearing
Yes, that's the same table as the one I posted above, but it's also why he may lose. His standout season in 2011 stands out for a reason. It's nothing like what he had done in prior years. As much as Garza and his representative can argue that the improvement was due to a change in pitching style, the Cubs can point to a mountain of evidence that shows that players regress to the mean.
The Cubs could also get clever and argue that the National League sucks. It does so it's not like they'd be lying, but they can point to why this makes Garza so much better. Then again, Garza can point to the typical pitcher moving leagues and it's nowhere near this much difference.
To compile a list of comparable players would take more time than I'm willing to put into this. I have a feeling that if the Cubs are to win a hearing it's going to be because comparable players have come nowhere close to what Garza is asking for in their 3rd year through arbitration while being super twos. That's the thing. The number of players will be few. Most arb eligible players are not Super Twos. So finding a comparable pitcher with the same amount of service time probably won't be very easy.