I Would Trade Matt Garza Before James Shields | The Process Report

I Would Trade Matt Garza Before James Shields

By R.J. Anderson //

I’ve gotten into this debate two or three times on DRaysBay this week, may as well lay out why I think this way in complete fashion.

Shields is cheaper

We’ll start here because it’s the easiest to defend. Shields is due $4.25 million next season and then has three club option years worth a combined $28 million. Performance-based incentives can increase those numbers by about six million, meaning the Rays are paying him something like $32-38 million through the 2014 season. Garza, meanwhile, is making $3.35 million this season and has three seasons of arbitration left. I would be amazed if Garza isn’t making equal to or more than Shields entering next season. Not only that, but Shields’ value is locked up within that six million dollar gap, Garza’s can fluctuate based on arbitrator’s decision and what the market dictates through the 2013 season.

Shields is better

Okay, this will take some space.

Let’s start with the elephant in the room: Shields’ home run rate. A lot of the perception about Shields boils down to how much stock you put into the idea that single season homer rates are highly volatile. It’s been proven time and time again that the year-to-year correlations are at a level where one wouldn’t feel safe calling it a skill-dependent statistic. Over the course of Shields’ career, here are his HR/FB%:


Yes, in 2006 he endured a similar rate. And you know what? It disappeared for the next three seasons. There is no indication whatsoever that Shields is going to continue to be this home run prone. People have the tendency to overvalue the weight of the last year of data and ignore the larger picture. Instead of, say, 3/2/1 scaling, people seem to use 5/2/1 or 7/2/1. With Shields, this is magnified by being one of eight pitchers to give up six home runs in a single game.

That statistic is misleading because of Survivor Bias. To give up six home runs, a pitcher must either have the manager’s trust to right things or the unfortunate instructions to take one for the team. Shields only gave up six home runs because he was in the game long enough to do so. Garza gave up four home runs earlier this week and was yanked before completing five innings. The difference between four homers in a game and six is luck and time rather than luck and skill.

Once you get past there, Shields has a career best strikeout rate and an almost identical walk rate to last season. People will be skeptical of his career best xFIP because maybe Shields really is a 11% or 12% HR/FB guy. Do that math on that and his xFIP comes out at 3.96. You know what his xFIP the last two years were? 3.92 and 3.92. You know what his xFIP in 2006 was? 3.95. James Shields is no worse now than he was then, even if the assumption is he’s more homer prone than the normal starting pitcher.

If polled, I think most would say Garza has the higher upside of the pair. A lot of that is stuff-based – and the no hitter probably helps too – and while Garza’s fastball is electric, it does not get as many whiffs as you’d think. His slider is very, very good, but he does not use it that much. Rays’ employee Josh Kalk found that fastballs peak around age 29, which just so happens to coincide with when Garza would become a free agent. If Garza were willing to take an extension similar to Ubaldo Jimenez, I’d have to believe the Rays would consider it, but given what they know about fastballs and about Garza, a long-term marriage might not make sense.

Many will point to Shields’ older age and weaker fastball with that last sentence and say, “Hey, wait a minute.” Yes, that is true, however Shields is less reliant on his fastball. If he were using it nearly three-fourths of the time, like his goatee-blessed rotation mate, perhaps it would be a bigger issue. I have faith – perhaps completely misguided faith – that Shields can pitch around a weak fastball because he has since his inception into the major leagues. I think many lack that faith.

Part of it goes back to the saying, “Seeing is believing.” Once a person sees something work, they are more inclined to believe it will work a second time. There is actually a name for it, as it is a cognitive bias: availability heuristic. I can think of many times when Shields dominated without his best fastball, not the case for Garza. Of course, that might be true, I certainly have no way of proving it, but it also might be incorrect. And yes, I too can think of times when Shields has given up a home run or a hard hit ball, but in reality, Shields is better at the aspects of pitching that we believe are skill-based.

Shields doesn’t fit the profile of a traded Ray

Put simply: Garza seems to have more perceived value. His ERA is shinier and the question marks are not brand onto his forehead. The Rays might field more calls about Garza, but they probably value Shields higher because of the guaranteed cost and longer ensured control. When a player has more value to the organization than to others, he should stay. When a player has less value to the organization than others, he should be moved. That’s just common sense. Especially in a year in which the Rays will probably not be vying deep into September for a playoff berth and will be infusing youth onto the scene.

Is there a chance Shields and not Garza is the one traded? Of course, but in terms of likelihood, Garza’s rotation slot is probably the one Jeremy Hellickson is taking.

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