The Diamondbacks get Jon Garland. In other news, "Randy who?"

Baseball trades, rumors and blog coverage - SB Nation MLB Hot Stove

Pop quiz, folks.Two pitchers, both free agents. Here are their stats over the 2006-2008 period, and age going into the upcoming season. Which one would you want to sign?
Age Cost Starts IP ERA+ IP/Start HR/9 BB/9
PitcherA
45 $8-13m 73 445.2 103 6.11 1.19 2.37
PitcherB 29 $6.25m 96 616.1 102 6.42 0.99 2.29

Really, we've all made more difficult decisions than that. While the ERA+ are almost identical, Pitcher B is younger, cheaper, more durable, goes deeper into games and has better peripherals, allowing many less home-runs as well as walking fewer batters. And that was all in the AL, facing the DH. Of course, it goes without saying that Pitcher A is Randy Johnson, now signed with the Giants, while Pitcher B is Jon Garland, who will be playing for the Diamondbacks in 2009. In your face, San Francisco! Our pitcher is better, less expensive and much more attractive than yours! Who's sorry now?

Okay, to some [arguably, a great!] extent, this is driven largely by cherry-picking statistics, but I think it's safe to say that Garland is a much better pitcher for the Diamondbacks to acquire than we thought we might get. Frankly, I'd have been satisfied with anyone whose count of functioning limbs exceeded tjhree. Getting someone young and halfway decent - under thirty and with a career ERA+ above a hundred (104, to be precise) - is definitely a good catch. He's certainly an innings eater, with seven straight season of 32 starts or more, and he will fit nicely into the Diamondbacks philosophy of signing such pitchers.

Over the past four seasons, only twenty pitchers in the majors have started 128 games or more. Four of them will be in the 2009 Arizona rotation:
    =2nd. Dan Haren, 135 starts
    =6th. Brandon Webb, 134 starts
    =18th. Doug Davis, 128 starts
    =18th. Jon Garland, 128 starts
By innings pitched, we will have the #1 [Webb, 927 IP], #5 [Haren, 878.2], #14 [Garland, 837.1] and #24 [Davis, 764.2]. Putting those numbers together, our fantastic four should be good for 131 starts and 852 innings, should they prove to be average. If Scherzer [or whatever many-headed beast ends up being the number five starter] proves only to be good enough for only 150 innings over the remaining 34 games, that'll still be a cool thousand from the Arizona rotation. That's pretty rare. the last time any National League side did that was in 2005 when St. Louis and Houston led the way, with 1,048 and 1,029 innings by their starters respectively. I need hardly remind you it was those same two sides who met in the NL Championship Series this year.

There are a couple of reasons why such a strong correlation apparently exists. Most obviously, starters pitching deep means they're throwing well. However, it also reduces the load on the bullpen, when they aren't having to work so much. This means that when it comes to late-inning, high-leverage situations, your better arms are more likely to be available for use, rather than having to fill in from the back of the 'pen, for a potentially-crucial frame or two. That might be of particular significance for the 2009 Diamondbacks, where the drop-off in quality is significant between Qualls, Peña and [we hope he's in this group] Rauch, to the likes of Blackley and Gutierrez. Our #1-#4 have averaged 6.5 innings per start over the past four seasons, and that will definitely help relieve the relievers' load, as it were.

On the specifics of Garland, what we're basically getting is a right-handed version of Doug Davis (and with a functioning thyroid, to boot). He's a soft-tosser who pitches to contact rather than striking people out - a career K/9 of only 4.71/9 IP, and only 4.12 last season. Nick Piecoro reckons Garland is a sinkerballer, and he had a good groundball rate last season, at 1.79. If he can maintain that, it should play well at Chase, but the downside is, he'll be dependent on the infield defense behind him. As we all know, that has the potential to be a real weakness for the D-backs this year, with hardly an above-average fielder to be found between Chris Snyder and Chris Young, except on the days Augie Ojeda gets a start.

Ken Rosenthal says the cost is $6.25 million for 2009, with a mutual $10m option for 2010 [If we decline the option, he gets $2.5m. If he declines it, he gets $1m.] I note the price is above the amount previously thought to be available in the budget. This supports a couple of hypotheses: firstly, that the money no longer needed for the draft (declining Dunn's arb and the likely low return for Hudson and Cruz, all reducing the amount needed for signing bonuses), has indeed been diverted to this year's payroll. It also seems likely, given this offer to Garland, that $3m was not the last figure in the Johnson negotiations. The difference between Garland and Johnson is largely one of certainty vs. risk. The Big Unit could be a Big Bargain or a Big Bust; Garland, you pretty much know what you'll get..

The consensus of the ERA projections from Marcel, CHONE and Bill James is 4.53, with a range of 4.38 to 4.71. However, I've a feeling those are based on him pitching in the AL, so should be a tick or two lower in the National League. That may be partly countered by park effects, but the Angels stadium was on the hitter-friendly side - it has a multi-year batting factor of 103, compared to Chase's 107. Perhaps the most interesting thing is getting a year of Garland for, at most, $8.75m. He earned $12m in 2008 and, while it wasn't the best of seasons - the consensus at Halos Heaven was markedly against offering him a hearing - he'd still have got a much better paycheck accepting arbitration, than in Arizona. He's only a Type B free agent, so we don't have to lose a draft pick with this signing.

Not everyone is impressed though. Over at Fangraphs, Dave Cameron is utterly scathing, claiming the move means that Arizona management "have officially screwed up your entire offseason." Hardly. Let's just leave it at that, for I respect Cameron, a lot and am surprised he's sunk to the level of sports-talk radio hyperbole, buying into the Big Unit KoolAid based on Randy's decent last three months. Levski and - to his credit - Xeifrank, ride to our defense in the comments there. On the other hand, Rob Neyer says Garland is "a great bargain," and "exactly the sort of deal a team like the Diamondbacks should be doing." Emphasis in original.

We'll see how it pans out, but I must confess to being a good deal more optimistic about our season now, than I was this morning. Whether you're a #1 or #5, you still get about the same number of starts, and as noted previously, it's a lot cheaper and more cost-effective to improve the back-end of the rotation than the front. We can now move Petit to a long-relief spot starter role in the 'pen, which I'm probably happier with, than relying upon him in the rotation quite yet [don't forget, he's four months younger than Max Scherzer]. I think this is probably the end of the major moves for the team; with the exception of the back-end of the bullpen, the Opening Day roster seems largely set. Pitchers and catchers report in less than three weeks!

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