First Pitch: Willy Garcia’s Strengths and Weaknesses Fit a Growing MLB Trend

One of the players the Pittsburgh Pirates protected from the Rule 5 draft this off-season was Willy Garcia, who was profiled today as the number 18 prospect in our countdown. Garcia is an interesting case. He has two plus tools, with plus power and a plus arm. However, he doesn’t draw walks, and strikes out way too much. As John Dreker wrote during the season, there haven’t been many players who have gone on to play in the majors while having the strikeout and walk issues Garcia has. On the other hand, not many players have two plus tools.

So why would the Pirates use a 40-man roster spot on Garcia when the strikeouts and walks suggest the odds are slim that he’ll be effective in the majors? My guess is that they were focused on the tools he has, with the hope that he can correct the strikeout and walk issues as he gets older.

That’s part of why we ranked him in the top 20. Another reason was a trend that is taking place in baseball. Here is a look at a few key stats from the last five seasons.

Year

PA/HR

K%

BB%

2010

40.2

18.5

8.5

2011

40.7

18.6

8.1

2012

37.3

19.8

8.0

2013

39.7

19.9

7.9

2014

43.9

20.4

7.6

I don’t know if you can call the 2014 home run rates a trend. It’s only one year, and clearly stands out from the other years. On that same note, the 2012 season was clearly different from the 2010-11 years. The very next season, the home run totals went back to the 40 PA/HR range. It’s very likely that the home runs could bounce back in 2015, increasing to the rate they were at in 2010, 2011, and 2013.

There are two trends that seem apparent here: the increase in strikeouts and the decrease in walks. On the surface, it seems that the league is sacrificing walks and accepting strikeouts more often. Maybe that’s due to the quality of pitching that is coming through the game lately. Or maybe it’s the approach by the hitters to focus on power, which leads to more three-outcome approaches, or in some cases, two-outcome approaches.

As for a guy like Garcia, if he can carry his power over to the majors eventually, and maintains his strikeout and walk rates to the point where he wouldn’t be completely overmatched, then he would definitely fit in. It’s not out of the question that he maintains the same rates as he moves up. His rates at Double-A were bad in 2014, but were actually slightly better than his 2013 numbers in High-A. A hitter like Garcia, with power and a lot of strikeouts, seems to be more accepted in 2015 than 2010, especially if the drop in power is an actual trend.

There’s another trend that has been taking place across baseball over the last few years, and that is a focus on defense. Garcia also fits this trend, as he has a plus arm in right field, and enough speed and range to be a good fielder at either corner spot. The fact that he can provide strong defense in the outfield, plus hit for power, makes him a MLB bench option at the least in today’s game, even with the plate patience issues.

I don’t know if the Pirates added Garcia to the 40-man roster with MLB’s recent trends in mind. I still think they added him because of the tools he has, and with hope that he could develop further (and probably because they felt another team would select him in the Rule 5 draft due to the same reasons). But it seems like Garcia fits in with a lot of new trends in baseball, with his flaws not being as big of an issue, as long as he brings his strengths, which are power and defense.

Links and Notes

**The 2015 Prospect Guide is now available on the products page. The book features our full top 50 prospects, plus profiles for every player in the system. I’m on vacation this week, which means all book orders placed will ship out on Monday morning, January 12th. All eBooks will be available for download immediately.

**Jordy Mercer’s Impressive Defensive Feat in 2014

**Pittsburgh Pirates 2015 Top Prospects: #18 – Willy Garcia

  • The trend in strikeouts and walks has little to do with player types or changes in the underlying talent. It is the strike zone, it has gotten larger.

    http://sabr.org/sites/default/files/Roegele-Strike%20Zone%20During%20PITCHfx%20ERA-2014_THT_Annual.pdf

    Given this trend I think it would make sense to target hard throwing pitchers with less than adequate command, targeting player like Garcia would make sense if you want to see a K rate >40%.

    • Sorry for that massive graph, didn’t size it correctly.

    • As always Andrew, you add very interesting info to the discussion. Fascinating that the swinging strike rate has actually decreased amidst all these extra Ks. And contact has stayed almost exactly the same.
      RE: your suggestion to target hard throwing pitchers with less command. I assume you mean in the draft since at the MLB level, those pitchers have already benefitted from the higher % of called strikes. Was gonna point out that if it’s in the draft, you can’t know what the strike zone will be like in 5 years when those guys start contributing, but I checked you x-axis again, and since this trend is demonstrable for 25 years, there’s a good chance it’ll continue for the next 5 – 10.

      • My idea was more that hard throwing relievers in AAA or working their way up through the system might be more valuable in this current period than say ten years ago. Not that their was any big new drafting or player development strategy to be mined. Changes in the leagues offensive level may shift the chances of some hitters or pitchers chance of success slightly but it is not going to be a big factor.

  • I understand your reasoning, but don’t agree with it. Mainly, because you seem to hold Garcia in much higher regard than Stetson Allie, when offensively speaking, they face some of the same deficiencies, with Allie seemingly having better plate discipline. Having watched
    both for an entire season I really do not understand the thinking that seems to be taking hold here.

    • Have we see Allie yet in the prospects list? If Allie appears higher on the top 20 than Garcia, where does it seem that they hold Garcia in higher regard?

      • Lukas, I am just going by the various columns and comments I have been seeing here the past 2 or 3 weeks. It probably appears that I am hoping for Willy to fail, which I am not. But in my eyes he is a very border line player to ever succeed at the MLB level. Lets hope he fools me in the long term.

        • Well all those columns appear to be misread or something since the writers then got together and decided to put Allie higher on a list of “here is who we think the 20 best prospects are” is all im saying. I dont think you want anyone to fail, but clearly the writers who comprise the list do so for good reason.

          • Aand I comment about certain MiLB players for good reason too Lukas. Because I saw both players in this instance play a lot, and I know what I saw.

            • Glad you follow them a lot, and love the passion. But i dont, and no offense meant at all because this goes for myself as well, ever really “trust what i see” because neither of us are professionals at scouting (so far as i know, assuming you are a pro scout) and the eye test is as flawed as every human being.

              • I combine the stats with the eye test, and when you have seen as many games and players as I have, you can make a pretty sound judgement on players.

                • Fair opinion, i just disagree that the eye test does anything but combine experience with a humans natural biases acquired through life. Unintentional bias, but its there.

                  • Ha…..you don’t know many scouts or crosscheckers, do you ? Why do you think there is such a high rate of failure among touted prospects ?

    • I won’t speak for Tim, but I get the feeling he holds Garcia in higher regard due to his perceived defensive value. And to a point, a corner outfielder certainly has more value than a 1B/DH. To a point.

      However, I question the tools-based defensive analysis he seems to be using. I haven’t read many great reports of Garcia’s actual overall defensive skill level, just gushing reports about his cannon of an arm.

      • The defense certainly is a given, even though I think I mentioned in an earlier thread that outside of his tremendous arm, I wasn’t watching a premier defensive outfielder. I just think he needs a lot of work on his angles and routes. Remember when NH mentioned they wanted to keep Polanco at AAA to work on those very points ? Everybody howled….till they saw that he actually needed that time. I can tell you first hand, Polanco looked a lot better in his short time in Altoona out there than Garcia did.

  • Interesting observations, but I question whether or not aggregate trends necessarily correlate to player type. As in, are teams actually leaning towards players that strike out more AND walk less? After all, that is Garcia’s player type, and to the absolute extreme.

    Not even positive this gets us closer to the answer, so I’m open for debate, but league-wide average BB/K ratio has obviously trended down as well: .46 (’10), .44 (’11), .40 (’12), .40 (’13), .37 (’14).

    I’d posit that if teams were more willing to accept low walks and high strikeouts, the number of players with BB/K ratio lower than average would also be increasing. The number of players per season to fit that scenario are as follows: 56 (’10), 49 (’11), 49 (’12), 46 (’13), 49 (’14).

    Seems to indicate that teams are no more willing to tolerate extreme hitter profiles, and possibly could be leaning toward the opposite.

    For reference, Willy Garcia just posted a BB/K ratio of .17. Five qualified players in the last five years have posted marks that low or worse.

    • Very interesting point about the number of players worse than the average. I asume that’s qualified players. If so, then I’d think one of two things is true 1) There are fewer qualified players in the years there are fewer below average (maybe a % of qualified players is better than an absolute number?) or 2) Pitchers (as hitters) have gotten far worse at K:BB and are dragging down the average (assuming your #s include pitchers hitting). Otherwise I can’t believe teams are putting up with such trends as power drops.

      • You’re correct, I used qualified position players.

        Very good points, both 1 & 2. The numbers Tim used include pitchers, which obviously skew the data a bit to the extremes. However, his general trend still stands for position players alone. And you’re absolutely correct that the percentage of qualified players posting marks below average would be the better metric to use.

        I originally wanted to plot a normal distribution of both K’s and BB’s, calc standard deviation for each, and identify the players that fell more than 1 SD away from average, 2 SD away from average, etc. Also wanted to include more players than those who “qualified”. I’d guess you’d get a lot more bench players in the extremes, but then we’d have to agree on a minimum number of PA’s for the cutoff.

        If anyone has an hour or so free today, I’d be very appreciative. 😉

        • Tetrapharmakos
          January 8, 2015 2:24 pm

          If we assume a normal distribution we don’t need to calculate. We should expect ~32% to be more than 1 SD away from average and ~5% to be more than 2 SD away from average. Such are the laws that govern normal distribution.

          • Except I’m not looking for the number of players in each group, I’m specifically looking for which players fall into the groups and how far away they are from the mean.

            The point of Tim’s article seems to be that the league is trending towards Garcia’s current skill set. Ok, sure, but where exactly would Garcia fall relative to the rest of the league(hypothesis: not very close), and which players could be used as comps for his potential success, or lack thereof.

    • Tetrapharmakos
      January 8, 2015 11:25 am

      “I’d posit that if teams were more willing to accept low walks and high strikeouts, the number of players with BB/K ratio lower than average would also be increasing. ”

      I think you are misunderstanding how data distribute around the mean. Assuming something like a normal distribution, there should be a relatively stable, even distribution around the average? Roughly speaking, for every below average player, there should be a corresponding above average player. If teams are more willing to accept low walks and high strikeouts, then we would expect the average BB/K to go down, but that wouldn’t be a reason to see more below average players. One systematic way you might see more players below average is if there was more outliers at the other end of the spectrum driving the average up but leaving the bulk of the players behind.

      • You’re correct. Your last sentence is what I was shooting for, but didn’t have the time to run the numbers. See my response to stickyweb.

    • Adam Jones has to be one of them, right?

  • I’d be interested to see how these numbers compare with the average and median age of position players in the majors. My first impression would be that there might be a strong correlation between walk rate, strikeout rate and age. It seems like teams are getting younger and it would make sense that younger players typically have less developed plate discipline. Without having the data on-hand, it’s all just speculation, though.

  • Lee Foo Young
    January 8, 2015 8:10 am

    I still think Garcia’s best value to us is in a trade. Hopefully, for a good middle IF prospect or some more pitching.

    I have an idea……Send him to the Mets for Herrera. 😭😭😭

  • RichardJarzynka
    January 8, 2015 8:03 am

    It’s not a trend that any team or hitter should want. What is the benefit to more Ks, fewer BBs, and the same number of HR?

    • Unless you’re a pitcher : )

    • I think this is an important point.

      Seems more logical that these trends are occurring in spite of what teams prefer.

      • I remember looking at a fantasy magazine last year at outfielders and getting out of the top 25-30 or so and being shocked at how many high K, low average guys there were. I think I had a few Rob Deer and Pete Incaviglia flashbacks. Statistically, 2014 reminded me of the 80’s when I grew up watching and hitting 20HR was not a common thing.

  • CalipariFan506
    January 8, 2015 7:48 am

    I know you guys aren’t crazy about comps but here goes one anyways. He reminds me of Wily Mo Pena.

    • Lee Foo Young
      January 8, 2015 8:06 am

      Calipari…I have mention Wily’s name a few times in comp on the PBC Asylum blog. Glad to see that there is someone who thinks like me. (or maybe you should be WORRIED you think like me?).😈😈

      • I think another good comp is Wladimir Balentien, although he did learn how to take walks in the minors eventually. Pena is tough to compare to Garcia in the minor league sense, because he was in the majors by age 20 after he showed some BB/SO improvements at AA. I guess Pena could be used as the best case scenario, while Balentien is a more likely comp. Garcia will probably end up in Japan hitting 40 homers a year after a few poor showings in the majors.

      • Willy Mo Pena would have been succesful had he ever been given the chances to play every day. I seriously doubt he wouldn’t have been equally as good as Adam Dunn, it is just that teams he played for, didn’t appreciate the value of the skills he had, they only focused on ones he didn’t. Same reason Brad Eldred failed.

        • Brad Eldred failed because he couldn’t hit a big league fastball. AAAA bat speed, plain and simple

          • Just saw this. I don’t totally agree with you. Eldred couldn’t hit the fastball up and in that tied him up. Leave one out over the plate at 95+ and it was going to go a LOONG way, I can tell you. He had the same problem that many tall hitters have with that pitch, and that is the problem that Joey Gallo is having, and Kris Bryant may also face, though ” experts ” like Jim Callis refuse to acknowledge it.

  • Scott Kliesen
    January 8, 2015 4:56 am

    Yet another example of a young man taking the words, “you don’t walk off the island” to heart.

    Keep swinging young man…you just may become the next Vladimer Guerrero!

    • The thing with Vlad was he was more selective than he gets credit for. He just had the uncanny ability to make contact with anything when he felt like hacking at it. Vlad walked 50 times or more in 10 straight seasons and 80 times one year.

      • I’ve tried making this argument before, that Vlad Guerrero actually had good plate discipline, and was mostly met with “but he swung at EVRYTHING”.

        No, he didn’t.

        • The amazing thing about Vlad is for a slugger he didn’t strikeout. Per 162 games he averaged 34HR and 74K. Incredible. Pujols hit 28HR and k’d 73 times last year. He averages 40HR and 69 K per 162. Pujols of course used to walk a ton but even he in his advanced age is getting aggressive early and walking way less…and Pujols just isn’t a guy that gets pitched around anymore. Pujols intentionally walked 286 times and Vlad was 250. Vlad led the league 5 times so he was even more feared than I remember.

      • Scott Kliesen
        January 8, 2015 1:22 pm

        Good stat on Vlad, Freddy. He was just the first guy who came to mind when thinking of a free swinger w a cannon for an arm.

        • Being a free swinger is okay when you know what pitches you can hit well and which ones you cant, and have the pitch recognition and the bat speed to put it to use. This isn’t plate discipline, it’s just knowing yourself as a hitter. JHAY falls into this category. He doesn’t walk very much, and he knows what pitches he can hit and which ones he can’t. He isn’t a free swinger, he just swings at pitches he knows he can hit regardless of whether or not they are a strike

        • Thanks. Yeah, Vlad was a favorite of mine. He could be selective but if he got down in the count he was swinging at everything including balls that bounced…and sometimes he hit those!

  • Now that ped’s have been pretty much eliminated from the game my thinking is we are trending back to baseball of the 50’s thru the early 70’s where a high strikeout rate was the acceptable exchange for power, I also see a return of a lot more bunting and base stealing types ala mareno. While baseball continues to move forward in many areas a little looking back is not a bad thing.

    • Bunting may be interesting, as many teams that are becoming more comfortable with advanced metrics and data may start seeing bunting as lessening the chance of scoring in a given situation. It’ll be tough to get some managers to agree that bunting isnt helpful in many cases, but there will be data to support the notion that in many cases bunting is wasting an out and lowering the chances of scoring. Bunting will actually be an interesting part of the game to monitor as teams get familiar with advanced data and trends of HR and K rates continue/change.

      • There a a few things in basesball that work despite what metrics say, bunting is one of them. Say your down a run or tied late in a game and your team needs a run man on first no outs, you need to move that runner over some way some how so ya lay it down. The old get em on get em over get em in. Like I said with no ped in the game I think we are going to start seeing baseball in it’s pure form the way it was meant to be, without enhancements just a lot of grit and determination. Where pitcher wins matter bunts are important and smart baserunning is a common thing.

        • Unless you’re a Pirates pitcher, they seem to have a very hard time laying down the bunt.

          • “Unless you’re a Pirates —— player, they seem to have a very hard time laying down the bunt.”
            FTFY

          • This is something that ABSOLUTELY needs to be a focus in spring training. They need to hire a bunting consultant and hold their pitchers responsible for learning how to bunt and continue this throughout the entire season. Our pitchers with the exception of Gerritt Cole, were a disgrace at the plate last year. Charlie Morton and Liriano are hopeless, and with Burnett coming back, it makes the situation even worse

        • Richard Mayhew
          January 8, 2015 8:49 am

          It really depends on what you are trying to achieve with a bunt. There was research over at Fangraphs that indicated bunting is a minimize maximum regret move… it significantly increased the probability of scoring one run at the cost of significantly reducing the probability of scoring two or more runs in an inning over “normal” play. So the advanced metric take on bunting is that it probably makes sense in a tied game or down by 1 in the 7th innning or later as enough information has entered that the probable result of the game after 9 will be “close” so one run could be decisive, but the correct play in the 3rd innning in most instances is playing straight up as there is not enough information as to whether the probability distribution of the final score will be “close” so that the trade-off of a single run probability bump and an out versus multi-run probability without the sacrificed out favors playing for average run production instead of single run production.

          • Well said & much appreciated sir

          • Exactly Richard. Not sure Hurdle knows this sometimes but great post.

          • To me it more depends on the type of pitcher on the mound and the make up of your lineup. This is where coaches earn their money. Back in the 90’s with Barry bonds, andy van slyke, and bobby bonilla coming up, none of whom struck out a really high amount, whom hit for a decent average and had power…….jay bell laying down a bunt was a good play. If Jay bell were followed in the order by Adam Dunn, Jack Cust, and Corey Hart……then you don’t bunt because they are unlikely to get hits, and with homerun hitters you need the most at bats necessary with runners on base to get the high value back. Similarly, the larger the strikeout pitcher on the mound, the less advantage of bunting because bunts to work, need to have the following hitters have a larger percentage of likelihood to put the ball into play

        • Right, in the situation where you need one run late in a game, bunting is somewhat likely to increase odds of scoring that run. But in nearly any other situation, bunting likely decreases chances of scoring. I think bunting will still have its place, but any team that trusts advanced stats may stop bunting until the 7th or 8th inning, or if they have pitchers who hit like PIT.

          • If you have a ton of speed in your lineup, stealing bases is a better option and should be focused on more. sacrafice bunting (which is what i think most of us are talking about above) should be used more by pitchers whom have very little chance of getting a hit, or when the runner on 1st is unlikely to score due to lack of speed on anything less than a homerun

            • Statistically, bunting decreases chances of scoring multiple runs in an inning. Yes, pitchers struggle to get a hit. But your chances of a pitcher getting a hit are higher than a pitcher bunting for a hit. You are giving away an out with bunting, which is the point. You cannot argue that a pitcher hitting has little chance of getting a hit so bunting is better, since bunting is 0 chance of a hit. Bunting makes sense with runners on when trying to score 1 run, otherwise stats show it lessens the chance of multiple runs.

        • Baseball has a pure form?

        • Pilbo, you make an excellent point and show exactly why advanced metrics are as flawed as traditional metrics when looked at alone. When a electronic screwdriver was invented, did everyone stop using regular screwdrivers, or did they keep both because they each have pluses and minuses.

          Situational hitting and the brain of the player and his situation approach are entirely lost by the typical advanced metrics. If you change one thing, you change everything. Intelligence and ability to adapt to situational needs during the course of a baseball game can never be measured effectively, but are absolutely inherent to the game itself. This is one reason why I can’t stand players like Pedro whom have no different approach no matter who is on base, what score there is, how many outs there are, what pitcher is on the mound. Statues in this league are not going to be very good players. And a homerun hit down by 5 runs with noone on, is not the same value as a single, hitting an outside fastball through the hole with a runner on second down a run in the 8th inning.

        • Arik Florimonte
          January 8, 2015 3:02 pm

          Bunts are almost always a waste of an out and decrease your chance of winning. The “advanced metrics” when used correctly can help identify the cases when bunting might be a good idea. But all other things being equal, even a 100% guaranteed successful sacrifice attempt will almost always decrease your chances of winning (any many, many attempts are not successful). So, you’d better have a good reason for the bunt, such as having a crappy hitter at the plate (whereby the current Win Probability is overstated), or facing an extremely tough match-up (whereby an extra base hit is extremely unlikely).

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