January 29, 2014

Twins Notes: Nolasco vs. Garza, Suzuki vs. Pinto, Buxton vs. The World

matt garza twins

• In moving quickly to sign Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes early in the offseason the Twins seemingly signaled two things: One is that they really liked Nolasco and Hughes, believing they both represented good value within the context of this offseason's free agent starters. Beyond that, it also suggested that they felt the consensus top-tier starters from the class weren't worth parting with a draft pick to sign or would end up being out of their price range. Or both.

And yet two months after signing Nolasco to a four-year, $49 million contract the Twins watched as Matt Garza--considered by most people to be a more desirable free agent target--signed with the Brewers for a nearly identical four-year, $50 million deal. Garza, like Nolasco, didn't require forfeiting a draft pick to sign and at age 30 he's a year younger. But who's actually the better pitcher? Here are their numbers from the past three seasons:

           GS     IP     ERA    SO/9    BB/9    OAVG     GB%    xFIP     MPH
Garza      73    457    3.62     8.4     2.7    .245    43.8    3.46    93.5
Nolasco    97    596    4.29     6.6     2.1    .279    44.9    3.76    90.1

Garza missed some time with arm problems in 2012 and 2013, so Nolasco has a large innings edge from 2011-2013, but in terms of actually preventing runs Garza was much better. During that three-year span Garza posted a 3.62 ERA, compared to 4.29 for Nolasco, and within that he struck out 27 percent more batters while holding opponents to a batting average 34 points lower in less pitcher-friendly environments. His fastball velocity was also 3.4 miles per hour higher.

However, a lot of Nolasco's somewhat bloated ERA during that time stems from a .314 batting average on balls in play, which was the second-highest among all 84 pitchers to throw at least 400 innings from 2011-2013. By comparison Garza had a .293 batting average on balls in play during that same time, which was right in the middle of the pack. If you assume that the defense behind Nolasco was mostly to blame for all those extra hits falling in the two pitchers look much closer.

Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) attempts to remove luck from the mix by focusing on the factors a pitcher can control and Garza had a 3.46 xFIP from 2011-2013, compared to 3.76 for Nolasco. In other words Garza was still clearly better than Nolasco during the past three years, but it wasn't as large of a gap as their ERAs suggested and the gap shrinks even further once you account for durability. With that said, for the same price tag I'd rather have Garza than Nolasco.

• When the Twins signed Kurt Suzuki to a one-year, $2.75 million deal I noted that the biggest worry was Ron Gardenhire falling in love with the veteran and choosing to play him far more often than his performance warrants. Turns out it may not even take Gardenhire falling in love with Suzuki for that to happen, as Terry Ryan has already gone from hinting that Suzuki rather than Josmil Pinto will be the starting catcher to basically saying Suzuki has the job locked up.

Pinto may prove incapable of being a decent defensive catcher, but his offensive upside is sizable and at age 25 there's a chance that he could develop into a good all-around catcher. Meanwhile, in the past three seasons Suzuki hit .235/.290/.353 while throwing out just 25 percent of stolen base attempts and rating very poorly in pitch-framing analysis. Suzuki hasn't been a starting-caliber catcher since 2009 and the Twins are likely to be mediocre at best, so why not let Pinto play?

• This week MLB.com, Baseball Prospectus, and ESPN.com all published their annual top 100 prospect rankings and Byron Buxton holds the top spot on each list. Buxton will also soon be named the No. 1 prospect by Baseball America when their list comes out. My annual series ranking and profiling the Twins' top 40 prospects kicks off next week, covering five prospects each day in countdown form.

This week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode was recorded live in front of a 300-person crowd at Twins Daily's inaugural "Winter Meltdown" event, with special guests Twins president Dave St. Peter, former Cy Young runner-up Scott Erickson, and Miguel Sano documentary filmmaker Jon Paley. Come for St. Peter getting laughs at my expense and stay for Erickson telling dirty stories.

8 Comments »

  1. Garza agreed to $50 Million over 4 years to pitch for the Brewers, a presumed contender. Would he have agreed to the same deal to pitch for the Twins, a presumed non-contender? I doubt it.

    Comment by Billet — January 29, 2014 @ 9:25 am

  2. I’m with Billet, I doubt he’d have come here for the same deal. I know I wouldn’t if I were in his shoes given how the organization treated him while he was here.

    The other thing that bears mentioning is where these guys pitched. Garza put up better numbers in Wrigley and Arlington – two very tough places to pitch. Nolasco got to pitch at much more favorable home ballparks (MIA and LAD). Oddly, Nolasco’s career OPS against is slightly lower when he pitched away from these parks, but still it’s the NL. Garza has put up better numbers in more difficult situations and his “stuff” looks better. Durability-wise, I guess I’d probably take Nolasco but you could make the same case for Kevin Correia.

    The Suzuki situation is a perfect example of why this organization is so frustrating. I like Suzuki more than his numbers deserve but let’s call a spade a spade, this is almost certainly going to be another rebuilding year (hopefully our last one for awhile). Not giving Pinto a chance is an obvious mistake. We will need all the offense we can get this year, and of course Pinto is no slouch defensively either. But offensively, we are well below avg at several positions.

    Whenever I judge front office decisions by this club I tend to ask myself, “what would Tampa Bay do” (WWTBD)? They would give Pinto every opportunity to develop into a regular catcher. Maybe that will still end up happening, but backing into it seems like a weird way to approach it. Imagine if we could just follow their roster/lineup management but retain our scouting dept? That would be awesome. Sigh.

    Comment by Andy Wink — January 29, 2014 @ 9:46 am

  3. Garza’s going on his 5th team heading into his ninth major league season. There’s a reason for that…

    Comment by McGivey87 — January 29, 2014 @ 10:50 am

  4. The Brewers are far from a contender. Just saying. I think (especially with a 4 year contract) that the Twins are a franchise that has more upside.

    Comment by D-Luxxx — January 29, 2014 @ 11:09 am

  5. -Aaron what do you think of Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana being still available. Are Twin’s that leery of giving up a 2nd round pick? If they have plenty of money and they have an obvious need why dumpster dive for Phil Hughes. Did Terry Ryan overestimate the demand for pitchers and bought too early? Swapping Jimenez or Santana for Phil Hughes or most of the pitchers on the Twin’s staff would be a significant improvement especially if they sign them to 2-3 year deals. This year is probably a lost cause but next year the Twin’s could definitely contend.

    Comment by SoCal Al — January 30, 2014 @ 1:28 am

  6. Again, I fail to be able to get upset over the Twins (seemingly) choosing Suzuki over Pinto.

    “I like Suzuki more than his numbers deserve but let’s call a spade a
    spade, this is almost certainly going to be another rebuilding year
    (hopefully our last one for awhile). Not giving Pinto a chance is an
    obvious mistake. We will need all the offense we can get this year, and
    of course Pinto is no slouch defensively either.”

    Isn’t it possible that they just want to give Pinto another couple months at AAA rather than assume he’s ready for the show based on a small September sample? He’s only spent about a year in the high minors, right? And the jury’s still out on his defense, so maybe that itself is something to refine in the minors? I’m just saying, if Pinto’s on the MLB roster he should be the starting C, but if they send him down to start the year, I don’t see the need to question the reasons.

    Comment by okok — January 30, 2014 @ 8:57 am

  7. I am far from an expert on this, but there are two things that Aaron chose to leave out of his Garza vs. Nolasco discussion. Garza has a fifth year vesting option, which might not look too good. Secondly, the reason that he has that vesting option is that people that have looked at Garza’s medicals believe that he isn’t going to last four years. Furthermore, the last time Garza was here he wouldn’t listen to the coaches and just through the fastball whenever he wanted which says something about him being a team player. Now of course that might have all been media spin on a trade that turned out to be disastrous, but count me in the camp that Aaron left out key facts that may tip the scales towards Nolasco.

    Comment by Andy4twins — January 30, 2014 @ 5:14 pm

  8. On the other hand, when Garza was a Twin the last time and “just [threw] the fastball whenever he wanted” he was a lot younger and spent less than a full season in total in the majors, and now he’s a veteran starter. I’d have to think he has a better sense of how to use his arsenal now.

    Comment by okok — January 31, 2014 @ 9:38 am

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