Jaime Garcia, The Cardinals: An Overlooked Sleeper Candidate

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Jaime Garcia, The Cardinals: An Overlooked Sleeper Candidate
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At the early stages of the fantasy baseball season, the owner must not just notice when a player is struggling, which can easily be achieved by looking at box scores, hit less at-bats (for hitters) and inflated run totals (for pitchers).

It’s important (I’ll stick to pitchers here for obvious reasons) to extrapolate those causes for concern—velocity drop, lack of movement or command of pitches, or just fluky bad luck.

It’s vital to ascertain when these underlying red flags may be causes for concern and therefore reasons to trade a certain pitcher. Also, when the hard times suppress a pitchers value so much that it would benefit you to make a bargain trade.

In the midst of sifting through these details for players currently owned in your leagues, it would also behoove you to multi -task and find that hidden gem, or undesired commodity who may prove to be a nice stabilizer for your rotation.

A player that can be scooped up at a cheap price from the waiver wire.

Though we’re just one week into the season, there have been several hurlers sparking some conversation of potential sleeper-worthiness.

One of those pitchers, who’s available in 99 percent of ESPN leagues and who may become a boon to deep-leaguers , is Jaime Garcia of the St. Louis Cardinals.

In his first start of the season against the Milwaukee Brewers, he pitched six innings of one-run ball, fanning five and giving up four hits.

Most of the time, fifth starters don’t always warrant any consideration in fantasy leagues.

It’s often a fluctuating spot on a major league team—starts are skipped whenever possible and most of the time their value hinges on their respective offense to outscore the opposition, since they’re not always the most reliable.

After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2008 (and missing the 2009 campaign) and dealing with recurring elbow issues throughout his minor league career, the lefty has re-emerged in 2010.

At age 23, he may be able to help fantasy teams.

Earlier this spring training, Garcia was thought to be ticketed to the minors, but an impressive spring wi th 20 strikeouts in 24 IP and a 3.00 ERA caused Rich Hill to be sent to Triple-A and stationed Kyle McClellan to the bullpen.

Not exactly the most imposing competition, but a positive step, nonetheless.

Garcia was signed when he was 19-years-old. He participated in the 2006 and 2008 futures game and was tabbed the Cards’ second-best prospect in 2007 and the fourth best in 2008. In 2007, Baseball America slotted him in as the 70th best prospect.

He made his major-league debut in 2008 with the Cards, relieving in nine of his 10 games and compiled a 5.63 ERA in 16 innings.

As a minor leaguer , in 384.2 innings, Garcia finished up wi th a 3.65 ERA, 1.31 WH IP , and an 8.6 K/9. He also finished wi th a cumulative 58.7 percent ground-ball rate and 23.4 percent fly-ball rate.

He has never sported a ground-ball rate lower than 55 percent in his short career, wi th multiple seasons in the mid-60’s. Right-handed hitters also saw no discernibly better ability against Garcia. He allowed eight home runs to lefties, and 21 to righties .

He also threw over three-times as many innings against right-handed batters.

He finished up with a 0.7 HR/9 rate in the minors, which has inflated in the past years. He allowed five round-trippers in 21 innings last year.

Garcia is a funky deliverer . He almost stops his motion at the top of the delivery, but has a heavy 90-92 mph sinker "that offers as much hard, late break as any in the minor leagues," according to Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus , who ranked him second among Cards 2010 prospects.

He also has a loopy curve-ball and a decent change-up . By no means is he going to light up radar guns, but he’s a well-above average fif th starter on a team that can score runs.

Plus, Dave Duncan has done wonders to multiple pitchers in his day: Joel Pineiro , Todd Wellemeyer , Kyle Lohse , and the latest experiment being Brad Penny, so Garcia is being taught by one of the game’s finest.

One red flag on Garcia’s resume, which is mitigated by his propensity to induce the ground ball, discussed in the next graph, is his walk totals.

The lowest he finished was 16 in 60 IP (1.9 BB/9) in 2006, and it has continued to spike ever since—3.9 rate in 2007 and 2008, and 3.0 rate in 2009.

It’s something to monitor, as he also had three walks in his first game this season. It’s definitely something to watch out for because it really puts stress on his ability to cause batters to hit the top half of the ball.

Since his sinker is his best pitch, inducing lots of ground balls (11 GB to 6 FG against the Brewers), it behooves us to assess the Cards infield defense.

According to Fangraphs , the Cards ranked in the middle of the pack in their Ultimate Zone Rating (defensive statistic), wi th a -17.8 runs below average and -1.5 UZR /150 games. But it doesn’t necessarily shed light on the whole story.

Currently, their infield defense is comprised of Albert Pujols, who is an above average defender, according to UZR (1.3).

Skip Schumacher , a utility guy wi th a -8.5 UZR /150 at second base.

Brendan Ryan, 13.8 UZR /150 at shortstop, and rookie David Freese , who in seven games at third base last season, earned him a  -6.7 UZR /150.

While these aren’t numbers to be overly proud of, most of these guys (Schumacher , Pujols, Ryan) have above-average range at the position.

Ultimately, the Cards have guys who are sub-par in terms of UZR defense, but these type of stats don’t necessarily explain the whole situation because predominantly ground ball pitchers, Pineiro , Chris Carpenter, and Adam Wainwright have fared quite well in the past.

I didn’t think I’d get this in-depth with such an unknown pitcher, but it was an illuminating exercise to take a look at all the factors related to his potential value.

Ultimately, I think of Garcia as a "hidden-riser." He will put up serviceable numbers, but won’t do it with a whole lot of fanfare and by the time the average fantasy owner realizes this, he will be grabbed and it will be too late.

He’s someone to pick up, stash on your bench until you’re comfortable and use him in favorable situations. New pitchers are often more successful against hitters and with his unfamiliarity in the league, he could be a great guy for the back end of the rotation.

What do you guys think? Does Garcia seem like a pitcher who could "steady" a rotation? Or are you skeptical?

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