The Mariners are in play for a lot of free agents. Buster Olney writes that one of the three big-name starting pitchers, Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana, appears to be destined to end up in Seattle. Adding one of these names to a rotation that features Felix HernandezHisashi Iwakuma and the possible contributions of big name prospects Taijuan Walker and James Walker could make for a formidable pitching staff. That being said, here’s a comparison of the three pitchers.

Garza has the advantage of not being tied to compensation. As he was traded midseason from the Chicago Cubs to the Texas Rangers, he was not eligible for the qualifying offer and thus the Mariners would not have to give up a draft pick if they signed him. In 24 starts between the two teams, he posted strikeout and walk rates of 20.9 percent and 6.4 percent, respectively.

The walk rate was the lowest of his career and his 9.8 percent swinging strike rate is only topped by his 2011 season. He’s run into some injury issues the last couple of years, and after making at least 30 starts each year from 2008-11, he’s made just 42 the last two years. However, the 30 year-old righthander still has his fastball. It averaged 93.1 miles per hour in 2013, which was the 14th best among starting pitchers. Garza also features an excellent slider which has a career 20 percent swinging strike rate. While he’s mostly a fastball/slider pitcher, Garza has almost no platoon splits. Overall, Garza’s reputation may be built more on stuff than performance. His career FIP- of 97 indicates that he’s more of a No. 3 pitcher than a top-line arm, and he’s had just one season of more than 3.2 fWAR.

It was just last year that Ervin Santana was more or less written off. He posted an FIP of 5.63, the highest mark in the majors, and surrendered 39 home runs in 178 innings despite calling the spacious Angel Stadium of Anaheim home. However, he bounced back in a big way in 2013, throwing 211 innings with a career-best 3.24 ERA. Still, Santana is no sure bet. He threw sliders on almost 40 percent of his pitches in 2013, which places him at a higher risk for injury.

 Also, a good chunk of his success appears to be attributable to the Royals excellent defense and the pitcher friendly confines of Kauffman. His strikeout rate of 18.7 percent was a shade below the major league average and his FIP- of 97 would say that his sparkling ERA- of 80 is mostly smoke and mirrors. In fact, other than 2006 and 2008, Santana has just one season with an FIP- below 100 and his career mark of 105 puts him on the same footing as Tom Gorzelanny and Freddy Garcia. Finally, the 31 year-old Santana has nearly 1700 innings of mileage on his arm.

You couldn’t be blamed if you had written off Ubaldo Jimenez after the first half of 2013. He followed up a miserable 2012 season by posting a 4.56 ERA with a 12.2 percent walk rate. His fastball was sitting in the low 90’s, a precipitous decline from the 2007-10 seasons where it averaged 96 miles per hour. However, the second half was a revelation. Jimenez didn’t get his fastball back, but he managed a miniscule 1.82 ERA with a 29.1 percent strikeout rate, and cut his walk rate down to 7.9 percent. The 3.0 fWAR he accumulated in the second half was matched only by Anibal Sanchez.

Going forward, it’s probably unrealistic to expect Jimenez to maintain that walk rate. After all, he has a career 10.5 percent walk rate over nearly 1300 big league innings. The soon-to-be 30 year-old hurler has the most upside of this group. He was one of the best pitchers in baseball from 2009-10, and he dominated in the second half of 2013. But, he also represents a big-time risk. As mentioned above, his fastball velocity has dropped more than four miles per hour since 2010. Though King Felix has continued to dominate while dropping fastball velocity, that’s the exception, not the norm. To compensate, he’s throwing his slider more than 25 percent of the time, which isn’t great for his arm health. Furthermore, he has unorthodox mechanics, which is putting it lightly. The swinging-gate delivery and inconsistent arm slot don’t favor health or consistency.

Finally, here’s a comparison of the Oliver Projections for each pitcher.

IP ERA FIP fWAR
Garza 177 3.31 3.56 2.8
Jimenez 183 4.43 4.04 1.8
Santana 232 3.92 4.66 0.7

Oliver isn’t too optimistic about Santana, which is probably fair. He hasn’t had two consecutive seasons of more than 2 fWAR. It’s not placing too much stock in Jimenez’ turnaround either. Overall, Garza is the safest option of the three, and the one that the Mariners probably have the most interest in. Jimenez is compelling, and would be a worthwhile gamble at three years around $15 million per year. Santana? Well, hopefully some other team will overpay for him.

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Chris Moran

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8 Comments

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  2. I think the M’s are waiting on Tanaka to be resolved, as are most of the potential suitors for Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez and Ervin Santana, I agree they should find 2 rotation pieces, one of which hopefully is Tanaka or at least Garza. Many of the non-elite pitchers like Feldman and Colon have been signed already. They might get something in a trade or some lesser lights like Hiroshima Carp right-hander Kenta Maeda, he’s 25 and Japan’s second best pitcher after Tanaka. Dallas Braden is also going throw in an audition for scouts before long, he used to be good, I hope they resign Guti to an incentivized contract for OF depth, it would be good to have a real defender available when needed.

  3. I’m not sure what Maurer and Ramirez have done to be considered for a rotation spot. Actually, nothing yet, but I do agree they display potential, but that doesn’t make them ready for a major league rotation, esp. for a winning team. Beavan and Noesi, emergency depth at best. Noesi may still pan out as a reliever. I still say we need two starters (AND a center fielder). Maybe JZ can push Franklin for Gardner now that Infante signed with the Royals. So I say the needs are 2 starters, CF, late inning reliever, and another C. And I believe the M’s have the money and the depth to get it done without giving up any of the top 5 prospects.

  4. Honestly, I’m more concerned about getting a real centerfielder than a #3 starter. If the M’s can somehow acquire Price + Jennings, that would be spectacular. With Loney signing, it’s less likely that TB will want Smoak or Morrison in a deal though.

  5. Well don’t forget the M’s have Maurer and Ramirez too. Beavan and Noesi as replacement level options. So as long as the M’s add a #3 type, they should have plenty of depth regardless of whether Paxton + Walker are ready.

  6. I’m partial to Jimenez myself. What the M’s really need is 2 starters. It would be wrong to write in Walker and Paxton. Like the Cardinals says “We need 7 starters for 5 slots”.

  7. With all the talk of declining fastballs, it makes me appreciate the pitcher Felix has developed into even more. You see a lot of pitchers fizzle out when they can’t blow fastballs by hitters anymore. “Experts” criticized his FB averages over the years, but he was talented enough and, more importantly, wise enough to have realized that would take him only so far and adapted. Remind anyone else of Greg Maddux?

  8. I like Jimenez you move him to the #3 with the M’s. Jimenez pitching against other teams #3 and you have a solid staff.

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