Early Thursday afternoon reports had the Brewers signing Matt Garza to a 4 year $52 million dollar contract. Those reports proved to be premature as later that night it was clarified that talks were still ongoing. No new information has surfaced as of yet so I’ve had lots of time to think about what exactly Garza would mean for the Brewers. It’s not as simple as valuing the starts he would make. We also have to consider the starts other pitchers wouldn’t have. Fortunately both of those aspects appear to be good things.
Garza isn’t an ace, not many pitchers are, but he is an above average starter. He has a career 3.84 ERA, 3.98 FIP. The last two seasons he struggled with injures, but in each of the four years prior he made 30+ starts. In those four years he threw 184, 203, 204, and 198 innings respectively. This suggests that if he's healthy, he's capable of throwing close to 200 innings. He has a 20% strikeout rate for his career and a 7.9% walk rate. Those rates also closely resemble his last 3 seasons so there is no sign of diminishing ability. He does have issues with home runs. His slider is a plus pitch and he has an above average fastball. His curveball is somewhat lacking though and he has a show-me change-up. I would place his talent level somewhere above Gallardo’s and below Lohse’s. A lot of people have balked at the length of the contract citing the last two years in which he dealt with injuries. I understand the risk here, but the Brewers do have a top notch medical staff. If they’ve given the green light either they feel his injuries are in the past or are manageable. Whatever the issues have been, they haven’t visibly diminished his ability. His velocity has been consistent his entire career and his plus pitches continue to have positive run values (his FB had a negative value last year but that's because of a terrible second half in Texas and likely more noise than anything real). Even if he does miss time, the innings he does provide should be quality.
By giving a rotation spot to Garza, the Brewers will be displacing a number of innings they would have given to others. Outside the top four of Lohse, Gallardo, Estrada, and Peralta the Brewers gave starts to 8 other pitchers. The best of those starts came from Tyler Thornburg. He made 7 starts and actually performed quite well. To be exact, in those 7 starts he put up a 1.47 ERA(1.1 fWAR). Despite that performance, he'll certainly be pushed to the bullpen if Garza signs. Thornburg fans need not despair though. No rotation stays healthy all season long so he's still going to start some games. In that case, it’s not really his starts that are being displaced. In 2013 the Brewers spread ~131 innings over 28 starts between Hiram Burgos, Alfredo Figaro, Donovan Hand, Mike Fiers, and Johnny Hellweg. They combined for a whopping -2.3 fWAR. These are the starts that Garza will be displacing. For contrast, Garza pitched ~155 innings accumulating a 2.2 fWAR. In a fuzzy math sort of way, adding Garza is almost like adding 4.5 fWAR.
That certainly doesn’t put the Brewers in contention for the NL Central. However, it may just put them in the conversation for one of the Wild Card spots. They’ll still need Gallardo to reverse his trends or at least see actual results closer to his FIP. In addition, they’ll need to see improvement from Peralta. If that happens and Estrada can stay healthy for a full season, it’s entirely possible the Brewers could have five 3-win starting pitchers. That’s not elite, but that’s solidly above average and with the potential the offense has it might be enough. Yes, that’s quite a few “ifs.” Still, it’s a few less ifs than a week ago. Or at least it will be if the Brewers actually sign Garza. If…ah hell let’s be optimistic, WHEN that happens, I’m going to allow myself to be excited and a little (cautiously) optimistic about 2014.
Garza also helps the Brewers in a rebuild. At the very least he can't hurt a rebuild because he doesn't cost a draft pick. If they're out of it by the trade deadline having Garza makes Gallardo, or possibly Lohse, more expendable. Garza himself could even be made available in a trade at some point in the future.