The New York Yankees remain in the market for a starting pitcher. Reports over the past week suggest they may be in search of a second arm as well. With news that Rakuten Golden Eagles’ ace Masahiro Tanaka has been posted, and the known interest of the Bombers in signing him, that still leaves three domestic free agents to consider as that second arm: Matt Garza, Ubaldo Jimenez, and Ervin Santana. We can go ahead and discount Santana because his consistency appears to rise and dip from season to season. He was practically a salary dump by the Angels, who turned out to be a golden egg for the Royals, and in turn, will make himself a truck load of money somewhere. It just won’t be in the Bronx. That leaves Garza and Jimenez. While neither is the perfect candidate, both bring intriguing resumes and options to the table for the Yankees to consider when deciding which of the two should don the pinstripes.
While my partner in crime, editor Jason Evans believes that Garza should be the pitching target of the Yankees, I’m going to take the flip side of the coin. He and I have discussed this situation at great length–in e-mails, chat messages, and of course on the YGY Radio Show hosted by Ricky Keeler. I firmly believe that if the Yankees have to sign one of the two upper-tier starters, regardless of how the Tanaka Sweepstakes plays out, the only choice here has to be Ubaldo Jimenez.
I know that Jason discussed age, wins and losses, and the like, but I’m going to go a little bit different route in why I believe Jimenez would be a much better fit for the Yankees. While both pitchers are relatively the same age, Garza’s injury history bothers me. To the point where I have nicknamed him “Carl Pavano-Redux.” Garza began last season on the disabled list for the Chicago Cubs, and had elbow issues after his mid-season trade to the Texas Rangers. Sure, Tommy John surgery makes pitchers as good if not better than they were prior to the injury, but for the amount of money that the Yankees will be forced to pay whether Garza is healthy or not, no thank you. Health does matter, especially for what each pitcher will command in salary. Garza hasn’t remotely come close to 200 innings pitched since his first season in the Windy City, back in 2011. Jimenez on the other hand, hasn’t pitched less than 176 innings per season since his age-23 season back in 2007. If that isn’t durability, I don’t know what is.
The home runs allowed might be a red flag to some for Jimenez. I’ll admit, he did give up a whopping 25 in 2012, but he also led the league in losses that season with 17 for a putrid Cleveland Indians team. Aside from that one season, Jimenez has done a relatively good job at keeping the ball in the yard. Especially given the fact that most of his career, he pitched home games in the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field. That is a big plus for him, coming to another hitter-friendly ballpark in the Bronx. Everyone talks about a plus for Garza being that he pitched for Tampa in the AL East. In his last three seasons in Tampa, Garza gave up 19, 25, and 28 home runs respectively. That doesn’t give me much confidence that his total will go down in New York. I also don’t believe that most of the teams Garza pitched against in the AL East during his time in Tampa, are still intact. Baltimore, Boston, Toronto, and even New York have undergone massive lineup overhauls since Garza was last in the American League, so toss that aside.
Power plays in the AL East, whether it is hitting or pitching. The power from the pitcher comes by way of the strikeout. Again, this is where Jimenez is head and shoulders above Garza. Even though Garza has remained consistent over the past couple of seasons with a 7.9, and 8.3 between his time in Chicago and Texas, Jimenez–even when he was struggling, punched out hitters at a rate of well over 8.5 per 9 innings, highlighted by his 9.6 last season. Mr. Evans pointed to the idea that all of Jimenez’s second half victories were against cream puffs. Not so fast sir. Jimenez might have been the recipient of a lucky schedule in the second half and took advantage of what he was given, he also recorded dominant victories against teams that could hit, including the Rangers (8 IP, 0 ER, 6 Ks), the Oakland Athletics (5.2 IP, 1 ER, 8 Ks), the Baltimore Orioles (6 IP, 0 ER, 4 Ks), the Toronto Blue Jays (6 IP, 0 ER, 4 Ks), and was a hard luck loser to the Atlanta Braves (7 Ip, 3 ER, 10 Ks). To say that all of his success in the second half was due to pitching against teams like the Twins, White Sox, and Royals, is blaming him for pitching in the AL Central. Mechanical adjustments Jimenez made throughout the season, and culminated with a dominant second half shows that he has ace-type stuff, that the Yankees could sign for the price of a #2 or #3 starter because of his prior seasons in Cleveland. Signing Jimenez could be the steal of the free agent season.
Garza had every opportunity to prove his ace-worthiness once he was dealt to the contending Rangers from the Cubs. At best, he was a just over .500 pitcher. What should really be of concern to the teams looking to sign Garza, should be his stretch between September 11th and September 26th, where he made it past 6 innings only once, an 8 inning effort against the Royals. Garza got knocked around by both the Pittsburgh Pirates (4 IP, 3 ER, 6 Ks) and the Tampa Bay Rays (4.1 IP, 6 ER, 3 Ks). The last time I looked, both the Pirates and Rays made the playoffs last season, and the beating by the Rays should just be another reminder to the Yankees that Garza’s previous success in the AL East no longer holds water.
The finals statistics I will use in my argument for Jimenez over Garza are ERA+, FIP, and HR/FB. While I’m not a sabermetrics expert, I know these stats matter, and they matter a bunch. Career-wise, Jimenez has an ERA+ of 112, to Garza’s 109. Jimenez posted an ERA+ of 114 last season, to Garza’s 109.5 between Chicago and Texas. Jimenez posted a FIP last season of 3.43 to Garza’s 3.88. When it comes to comparing how each would fair pitching in Yankee Stadium, look no further than Jimenez’s 9.0 HR/FB percentage compared to Garza’s 11.6.
I’ll take health, strikeouts, potential, recent performance, and all of the sabermetrics goodies over history–meaning Ubaldo Jimenez over a guy that once pitched in the AL East, being Garza most recently in 2010. To me, the answer is clear, if the New York Yankees are going to go all-in, go over the $189 million dollar payroll threshold, and sign a second arm to pair with Masahiro Tanaka, who won’t come cheap either, the only choice for the long term, sustained success of the franchise is to sign Ubaldo Jimenez.