BallHype Sports Blog Rankings CLEVELAND REBOOT: In Defense of Ryan Garko

Saturday, February 7, 2009

In Defense of Ryan Garko
















The Mugwamp

I am an Indians fan. Good and bad. I admired Joe Borowski’s chutzpah if not his arm and I like Josh Barfield and Andy Marte even though neither can hit.

I am not particularly a fan of Ryan Garko. He seems a decent guy, a willing interview after a game and I appreciate the way he worked hard to transform himself from a journeyman catcher into a potential everyday player. However, I do not have the same core emotional bond with Garko as with Grady and Victor or Sabathia before he left.

Like many fans, the Tribe’s poor first half last season created frustration, doubt and at times anger. The team’s inability to hit with runners on or in scoring position became a frequent source of despair as the Indians weak offensive output wasted decent starting pitching.

Garko’s poor performance early played a role in this disappointment and helped remove the Tribe from division contention by the end of June. Of course, he had help. Both Peralta and Sizemore fared little better and Martinez and Hafner were injured.

The forgettable 2008 season is over and a new 2009 looms. The team’s strong finish, a return to form (hopefully) by Martinez and Hafner and the offseason additions of Wood and DeRosa fuel optimism for sustained improvement but questions remain.

One involves first base and the planned platoon of Garko with Martinez to allow Kelly Shoppach more at bats. Does this make sense? How far should it go?

Background

Management and most fans support the Shoppach concept. Blogs and comments routinely assail Garko’s lack of power and shoddy defense. Manager Eric Wedge recently stated Garko needed to increase his “production” in order to remain on the field. Incredibly, Wedge also mentioned the ill considered possibility of the stone footed Garko in the outfield.

The root cause of this upheaval? Shoppach.

Wedge’s current plan appears to shift Victor to first for 25-30% of games and increase playing time for Shoppach based on his unexpected power production in 2008 (21 HR in 352 AB’s). Assuming Hafner returns to Pronk status and reclaims the DH role, Garko becomes the odd man out.

















Is this lack of respect for Garko justified?

This analysis divides into three parts: (1) Overall Stats, including situational hitting; (2) Bang for the Buck (run production/slugging); and (3) Fielding. Direct comparison is made to Peralta and Sizemore, the only other offensive mainstays who played the entire year after injuries to Martinez and Hafner, and Shoppach, the player most likely to take at bats from Garko.

Overall Stats

I am not a stat geek. One of the simple charms of baseball is the time honored box score and the offensive mantra of Avg., Runs, Hits, RBI and HR. Add in situational hitting, perhaps the most telling stat, and the basic foundation is set.

The myriad of trendy numbers advanced by baseball sabermetricians are worthy dalliances for those better at calculus and reducing theory into probability. Call me slow and old fashioned.






















2008 Statistics

AB R RBI HR OBP SLG OPS

Garko 495 61 90 14 .346 .404 .750
Peralta 605 104 89 23 .331 .473 .804
Sizemore 634 101 90 33 .374 .502 .876
Shoppach 352 67 55 21 .348 .517 .861

Garko Peralta Sizemore Shoppach

Avg. OPS Avg. OPS Avg. OPS Avg. OPS

Runner On .318 .886 / .283 .783 / .269 .862 / .278 .920
Scoring Posit .315 .899 / .281 .806 / .268 .959 / .239 .812
SP, 2 Out .333 1.012 / .267 .851 / .261 .943 / .229 .852
Bases Loaded .421 1.247 / .231 .517 / .400 1.138 / .100 .191
K Ratio 17.4% 20.8% 20.5% 37.8%
AB to Produce Run 6.51 9.17 11.12 10.35
Salary/Run Produced $ 2,781 $ 12,953 $ 16,581 $ 3,311
Pre All Star .241 7/45 .261 16/48 .273 23/54 .248 7/20
Post All Star .319 7/45 .295 7/41 .261 10/36 .273 14/35

An eye opener. The consistent .315 or better average for Garko in all situational hitting categories is invaluable to create and sustain rallies, particularly for an Indians team which often struggles in this regard.

The fact Garko tied Sizemore for the team lead in RBI despite 140 fewer at bats is also notable. Granted, Sizemore is a leadoff hitter but that speaks more to the Indians’ overall offensive structure than Garko’s performance.

Some might argue Garko’s strong second half was too little too late. True, the team was out of contention by June but the post All Star record of 40-28 was in large part due to the improved play of Garko, Choo, Peralta and Lewis (Lee was a constant).

A hot streak in August/September is just as rewarding as one in April/May. Baseball is about the totality of a season as human performance necessarily ebbs and flows. The overall finish is what counts.






















Bang for the Buck


Garko critics point to his modest 14 homers and low .404 SLG as an indication of poor overall production. Shoppach proponents point to his high 21 homers and .517 SLG as evidence he should play more. Which is more compelling?

Run production should not be confused with raw power or slugging percentage.

A player who hits a solo home run in an 8-1 loss and leaves six runners stranded enjoys good power numbers but is a poor run producer.

Garko himself is a prime example. In 2007 he hit 21 home runs in the same number of at bats as he hit 14 in 2008, a 33% decrease. However, despite the significant drop in home runs his RBI in 2008 climbed to 90 from 61, a 50% increase. The 90 RBI ranked Garko sixth among starting American league first basemen.

In perhaps the most basic and important hitting categories, with runners in scoring position and one or two outs, Shoppach hit .239 and .229 even though his OPS was .812and .852. For the season, Shoppach had only 31 RBI with runners on base, Garko 74 (weighted to equalize the at bats Shoppach drives in 44).

Shoppach’s 21 dingers in 352 at bats are impressive. Home runs are sexy. Well timed base hits which plate runs and sustain rallies are drop dead sexy and more valuable to the team.

Shapiro often talks about the value of “professional hitters” to balance the ups and downs of younger players. Garko fits this mold more than Shoppach whose 38% K ratio kills rallies, fails to advance runners and eliminates any hope of a hit and run.

In short, Garko provides a significant upgrade over Shoppach in both overall run production and situational hitting (runners on).
This result does not necessarily suggest Shoppach should play less. It appears he will be Cliff Lee’s personal catcher this season and Martinez does need time away from behind the plate to maintain performance and save his knees. However, it does caution against projecting Shoppach based solely on one half season’s power numbers.

The league always adjusts. Look no further than Cabrera early last season and Ben Francisco’s struggles in the second half. Will Shoppach counter and improve his game? Even if he does will the results surpass the production likely provided by Garko?

Although Garko has only two full seasons of major league experience, he is just 28 years old and presumably on the cusp of his prime as a hitter. Like many young players, he gets pull happy at times and forgets right and right center have open grass or that a walk is not a bad thing. His poor start last year (.227-4-20 through May) was maddening at times.

However, added experience should bring added consistency and increased production. Continued improvement is a reasonable expectation and a fair demand. If absent, he sits.












Fielding

A third common lament is Garko’s alleged lack of defense. One writer even compared his play at first base to a hockey goalie. True, his range is limited and he is mechanical around the bag but he’s played the position for only three years. The numbers suggest he makes the plays he gets to and his defense appeared to improve during the course of the season.

Garko’s fielding percentage of .996 (4 errors in 121 games) is the highest of any Indians regular, including Sizemore and Cabrera although both are clearly better defenders. Comparing apples to apples, Garko’s fielding rank equates with Justin Morneau and Kevin Youklis, both generally considered solid first basemen. His range factor is also higher than both Morneau and Youklis.

Room for improvement? Yes. But the overall perception of Garko’s defensive inadequacy appears overstated.

Be careful what we wish for. Anyone remember Ben Broussard?

Conclusions

I like Garko and Shoppach. Both provide an unsung sinew for the team and are grinders, lunch pail types who must work at and earn what they do.

The contrast in perceptions about the two players is startling. Despite the season numbers, Shoppach is an up and comer with occasional lightning in his bat (if he makes contact) and Garko is a lead footed putz who can’t be counted on to drive in needed runs.

Management has furthered this delineation. Two years ago Wedge bluntly stated Garko would only play if he made himself an adequate first baseman and produced offensively. He did.

Now Garko must look over his shoulder again and “produce” or be banished to make way for Shoppach even though Garko’s run production and situational hitting numbers far exceed those of Shoppach or team offensive leaders Peralta and Sizemore.

Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t it be Shoppach who has to produce with runners on and quit striking out before his playing time significantly increases? Or have we fallen in lust with Shoppach’s “projectable” power states?

Wedge repeatedly displays an old school, cement headed stubbornness. The ill fated Brandon Phillips giveaway and the insistence on a Dellucci/Michaels platoon are but two examples. The Garko/Shoppach shift will happen. Wedge will make it.

Maybe Victor is the first baseman of the future and Carlos Santana the catcher in waiting so in any event Garko’s days are numbered. However, in the short term abandoning Garko’s proven production makes little sense.

The basic numbers set forth above don’t lie. The reality of Garko is better than the perception. He deserves more respect.

BallHype: hype it up!

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