by David A Marcillo
Last week, the Miami Marlins were forced to make two roster moves to make room on the 40-man roster. With outfielder Matt Joyce and relief pitcher Brandon Kintzler signed to free agent deals, left-handed relief pitchers Jose Quijada and Jarlin Garcia were both designated for assignment. That meant that the Marlins had 10 days to figure out if any other teams wanted those two players. If not, they would be exposed to the waiver process and any team that wanted them could claim them and pay the Marlins a $20,000 waiver fee. Time passed and: no one wanted them (editor please insert the Fresh Prince “how come he don’t want me, man?” video here) [Editor’s note: no.]
Seeing as how no other team offered the Marlins anything worthwhile, the two pitchers made it to the waiver process and were both claimed. Quijada was claimed by the Los Angeles Angels, and Garcia was claimed by the San Francisco Giants. That meant that those two teams would pay the Marlins the waiver claim fee, and that’s it. The Fish would receive no players in return, essentially giving up the two pitchers “for free”. Marlins Twitter was NOT okay with that.
Folks were especially Mad Online™ about Jarlin, who one fan even called “the best pitcher on the Marlins roster”. The thing about Jarlin Garcia, however, the thing that this website plans to bring out to the Marlins masses is this: Jarlin Garcia was really, really lucky in 2019. Jarlin Garcia was, statistically, pretty good in 2019. Jarlin Garcia was, analytically, really really lucky in 2019.
A deep look at Jarlin’s numbers show that there’s a good chance 2019 will be his best season in Major League Baseball. He is a very limited talent who, on a team with more exposure, will be exposed as a likely career journeyman/final bullpen arm. He’s much more likely to work as a mop-up reliever than as anything close to a high-leverage arm.
Let’s look at why Jarlin’s 2019 “baseball card numbers” were decent enough to make people upset about his departure: 4-2, 3.02 ERA, 6 holds, and 39 strikeouts. But a closer look shows much more concerning stats: 4.74 xFIP, 4.53 SIERA, .248 BABIP, and an extremely meager 18.9 K% (6.93 K/9).
So what does that all mean? It means, based on his pitching alone, Jarlin Garcia was well below average in 2019. How did he then end up with a 0.5 fWAR season? Luck. Jarlin allowed just a .248 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) which is well below the established league-average that sits right around .300 yearly. SIERA stands for skill-interactive earned run average, and in (very) basic terms, it quantifies a pitcher’s performance by eliminating factors the pitcher himself cannot control. This helps to regulate things like the defense behind him, the park he’s pitching in, and so on. So, luck aside, Jarlin’s ERA would have been closer to 5 than to 3.
You simply cannot have a guy who strikes out fewer than 1-in-5 batters pitch in high leverage situations. Sure, strikeouts aren’t everything but in a critical situation, a ground ball can get through the infield, a fly ball could drop into the outfield, but a strikeout? That’s an out. Every time (let’s pretend catchers don’t drop third strikes for a second here). In your late inning relievers, you want guys who can get outs by themselves, without relying on their defense.
Now, some pitchers induce weak contact and get away with not striking guys out because they keep guys from getting the barrel of the bat on the ball. Greg Maddux, for example, had a career strikeout rate of 16.5%. So while guys didn’t straight up miss Maddux’s pitches, they also didn’t hit them the way they wanted. For the seasons where data is available (2002-2008), Maddux allowed a hard hit rate of just 25.7%. Jarlin Garcia, meanwhile? 34.9% hard hit. To his credit, Jarlin did lower his home run rate from a putrid 2.18 HR/9 in 2018 to a solid 0.71 in 2019.
Basically, it boils down to this: Jarlin Garcia was an average pitcher last season because he got lucky. His upside is just that. An average pitcher. He’s not a star, he’s not a closer, and he’s not a starter. He’s a guy whose name you only know if he pitches for your team. He’s that guy that comes in to pitch the 6th inning when your team is already down by 5 or 6. He’s that guy that pitches the second game of a double header and gobbles up 3 innings because the whole bullpen is exhausted. He’s that reliever that, on a good team, spends most of the season in Triple-A but is on speed dial if the big league club needs an extra arm on a long road trip.
Marlins fans, some Marlins fans, are furious about losing Jarlin Garcia. Marlins fans, most Marlins fans, will not remember who Jarlin Garcia is by the end of the 2020 season.