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 Hernandez, Hisashi 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.
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.