Around Milwaukee, the general sense is that most of the folks that follow our local nine are not fans of Matt Garza. Outside of his solid first season with the Brewers after signing as a free agent in 2014, Garza exactly hasn’t lived up to the expectations that came with his $50 mil contract, the richest free agent expenditure in Brewers’ history. He didn’t endear himself to many, either, when he opted to leave the team last September (to be with his wife while she was enduring a difficult pregnancy) rather than pitch out of the bullpen after 25 disastrous starts.
Garza’s value was at an all-time low following the 2015 season, after he posted a 5.63 ERA in 148.2 innings pitched, and with another two years and $25 mil on his deal plus a vesting option for 2018, he was all but untradeable. It wouldn’t have been that much of a surprise to see new GM David Stearns decide to simply cut bait with Garza at that time and eat the rest of the money owed to a free agent mistake made by the previous regime. Milwaukee stuck with the 32 year old righty, however, who has quietly re-established himself as a viable option in the rotation once again this season.
Matt missed the start of the year with an injury to his shoulder, but since returning to the rotation in June he’s thrown 91.2 innings of 4.22 ERA baseball. Not quite front-of-line starter type run prevention there, obviously, but good enough for a better-than-league-average ERA- of 99.
Garza’s still not striking batters out at the rate he did earlier in his career (15.4% K rate this season), but he has cut his walk rate from last year (8.7% to 7.9%) as well as his home run rate (1.39 HR/9 to 1.08 HR/9). To help mitigate some of those missing whiffs, Garza has become a ground ball pitcher, generating them at a 54.1% clip this year - 12 percent higher than his career rate in 11 big league seasons. He’s also induced infield fly balls - which are considered about as effective as strikeouts inasmuch as being an “automatic out” - at a well-above average rate of 14.0%, which ranks him tied for 13th-best in baseball among starting pitchers with 90+ innings pitched. He’s slashed his line drive against rate by more than four points from last year down to 17.9% and his soft contact rate of 19.6% is above Garza’s career average.
A FIP of 4.48 and FIP- of 104 generally support that Garza has been about a league-average starter when healthy this season. Given his immense struggles last season, the production Garza has provided this year is about as useful as anyone could have hoped for, and it has come at a good time for Milwaukee. It’s setting up to be a rather weak market for free agent pitching this winter, which puts Slingin’ David Stearns in a good position to capitalize on Garza’s rebound season.
With Matt’s vesting option for 2018 no longer a concern due to the two months worth of starts he missed early in the year, he’s owed only $12.5 mil next season along with a $5 mil club option for 2018. With the rising cost of doing business in the MLB, a potential two-year, $17.5 mil deal for a capable back end of the rotation starter shouldn’t be a hard sell to other teams around the league. The top starting pitchers on the upcoming market - likely Rich Hill, Jeremy Hellickson, and Ivan Nova - should each have no trouble commanding two to three times higher of a guarantee despite question marks and limited track records of recent success for all three. Beyond that trio, it’s slim pickings as far as free agent starters go.
The baseball season is a marathon of 162 games, and teams are willing to pay to find competent arms to fill all those innings. That’s why there should be a good deal of interest in Garza this winter. That’s not say Milwaukee will get a major haul for their veteran starter, but Stearns should be able to command a B-level prospect while being required to pay down little to none of the remaining money owed to him. Considering where his value was a year ago at this time, that’s undoubtedly an encouraging development.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs