Monday, January 25, 2010

Ryan Garko and Roster Construction

We at Fonzie Forever have been in favor of bringing Ryan Garko on board here for a few months now. In early December, we pointed out:
Garko has a career .313 average and 887 OPS against left handed pitching - the perfect compliment to Dan Murphy in a platoon at first base. He's not a world-beater in general, being a 28-year-old first baseman with an average bat and average-to-below-average glove, but he has his uses.
More recently, Anthony DeRosa at Hot Foot pointed out that Mets fans on twitter are "almost unanimous" in their support of that move. But here at Fonzie Forever, we have a habit of challenging conventional wisdom. Going a level deeper - does acquiring Ryan Garko make sense?

James Kannengeiser of Amazin Avenue doesn't think so. In a post last week, he said that Garko's "lack of versatility" means that his negatives "outweigh the lone positive." He opines:
Three of the five bench spots are filled, by Alex Cora, Angel Pagan/GMJ and yet-to-be-named backup catcher. Signing Garko would provide the slightest of upgrades at first base while ignoring the need for a competent reserve outfielder and someone to backup David Wright at third base. At this point, the Mets would be better off letting Murphy play everyday (gasp) and turning their attention to improving second base and the outfield.

It is true that three bench spots are now full -- but is the conclusion accurate? What is the best way to use the remaining two spots we'll have on the bench? First of all, here is another take on Garko, courtesy of the irreplaceable fangraphs:
Ryan Garko: +8 hitting, -3 fielding = 1.3 WAR ... We’ve been over the Giants’ foolish decision to non-tender Garko before. No, Garko isn’t a star, but he’s at least a decent stopgap. At 29, he’s probably not going to fall off of a cliff ... Given that Garko was just going into arbitration for the first time this off-season, the team acquiring him would also have him under control for the following season. Once that is factored in, Garko might end up being the best “value deal” left on this list, and could fit into plans for a variety of teams.
So there is his value. But how about his value to the Mets in particular, knowing what we know about who is ALREADY on the roster? As Amazin Avenue points out, we've got Alex Cora to back up second base and shortstop. In Gary Matthews Jr., we'll have a backup for all three outfield spots. The backup catcher, whoever it is, will have that spot covered.

At that point, we'll have a player who can competently backup every position except our corner infield slots. It is a good and flexible position to be in. Even though, in a perfect world, our backups would be better than Cora and Matthews, the fact is that they are there either way. So who could or should we acquire to back up the corner infield slots?

Jonah Keri took a look at platoons a few years ago for Baseball Prospectus which I will let speak for itself:
If you have a lefty bat at a corner slot who's not getting it done against southpaws, these lefty-mashers can turn decent production at a position into very good production.
[The average platoon split for lefties is] .252/.323/.398, vs. .273/.352/.450. Put another way, this is roughly the difference between Jamey Carroll's career line, and Matt Lawton's.
[In general] benches aren't remotely carrying their weight on most clubs, and no third catcher, pinch-runner or punchless utility player will match the impact that a good platoon player can bring, given 150 at-bats.
He continues on to say that, in order to be able to afford carrying a straight-up platoon guy on your roster, you need at least TWO things on your roster already:

1) an infielder who can play multiple positions, and
2) a solid bat who'd act as a ninth starter.

I agree, and we said as much earlier in this article. In Cora, we've already got #1. All we'd need before we committed to a guy like Garko would be a solid extra bat - preferably one who could spell our starters for a short stretch if necessary at 3B and corner outfield. For the last two years we've already had that man - his name is Fernando Tatis.

We looked at Tatis' projections in December and concluded:
I love Fernando Tatis, but [his ZiPS projection] has him hitting better than last year and better than his career line. He'll be playing this season at age 35, so I think a duplicate of this years .282/.339/.438 line is more likely.

Whether Tatis is the answer or not is aside from the point (though I do like him as an option). The more important part is this -- if we can get a guy like him, we will have a competent backup at every position on the diamond, not to mention guys like Fernando Martinez and Nick Evans waiting in the wings.

I think we have the roster space and the need for a guy like Garko. Sure, Garko isn't going to be able to play all over the diamond, but as has been pointed out over and over and over again, he would be an extremely valuable addition to the team.

As for the platoon itself, Garko has had 422 at bats against lefties in his career (enough to start feeling comfortable about making a projection) and his batting line is .313/.392/.495. Murphy has only 104 at bats against lefties (so he may end up hitting lefties competently some time in the future) but has only hit .240/.289/.442 against them. However, Murphy even in the minors had a big split - a 832 OPS versus rightiest and a 725 OPS versus lefties.

Combining Murphy and Garko's platoon splits would give us a first baseman with an OPS above 800. Put another way, that is the difference between Yadier Molina (749 OPS) or Skip Schumaker (757 OPS) and Hunter Pence (818 OPS last year), Nick Johnson (831 OPS) or Adam LaRoche (844 OPS).

In addition, we'd have an opposite handed pinch hitter for late in the game if we needed someone to avoid a specialist. The Mets have missed having a big pinch hitter late in games for years - it would be nice to finally have one.


Ari Berkowitz said...

I agree with your rationale except I really don't see why the Mets can't platoon Evans with Murphy. He is an adequate fielder as good a hitter from the right side as Murphy is from the left and he can play all the corners. He's also the cheapest, homegrown and is under control for about 5 more years. This to me seems like the smartest move.

Brian said...

Hey thanks for your comment! I'm with you on this, except for the fact that I'm not entirely sold on Evans. He does have the right platoon split, but I'm not sure he's good enough even from one side.

Evans had a good year in 2008 as a 22 year old in AA, but he hasn't done anything since then. He had an 817 OPS in AA again this year but REALLY struggled in AAA, only hitting .211/.280/.414. Buffalo is a hard place to hit, but really?

For what its worth, he hit .254/.343/.525 against lefties in Buffalo last year. He had some bad luck, but not enough that I'd feel confident with him going into the season.