Matt Garza vs. Doug Fister: Who is the More Valuable MLB Pitcher?

Thursday January 5th, 2012


Rob Bland:  One of the perks of what I do is that I get to talk baseball with a lot of great people.  The other day I got into a debate over a couple of right-handed pitchers that are extremely different.  Some people were saying one was better than the other, while others disagreed with that notion.  It got fairly heated… but it usually remained respectful.

The two players in question are Matt Garza of the Chicago Cubs and Doug Fister of the Detroit Tigers.  Before the 2011 season, it would have been unanimous that Garza was the better pitcher.  However, with a strong performance and a playoff push, Fister turned a lot of heads.  Fister spent the first part of 2011 pitching for the lowly Seattle Mariners. While their pitching staff led by Felix Hernandez, Michael Pineda, Erik Bedard and Fister was solid, they anemic offense couldn’t muster any runs.  When Fister was traded, his record sat at 3-12.  His ERA was a solid 3.33 and while he only struck out 5.5 batters per 9 innings, he only walked 2 per 9.  

Upon his arrival in Detroit, Fister was a new man.  In 70 innings, he gave up 54 hits and walked only 5.  His K/BB ratio was 11.4 and WHIP sat at 0.84.  Fister also had an 8-1 record and 1.79 ERA.  To say he solidified the rotation behind Justin Verlander is an understatement.  Although the Tigers ran away with the AL Central Division, it would have been much closer if not for Fister.  

Matt Garza spent his first season in the National League improving upon his career numbers.  Sure, the NL Central isn’t a very good division, but then neither is the AL Central for that matter.  Garza had spent the majority of his Major League career pitching in the daunting AL East, to varying degrees of success.  With an average fastball velocity of 93.4 mph over his career, and solid secondary pitches, he is known as a pitcher with good stuff, and a bulldog mentality on the mound.  Garza averaged almost 9 K/9 innings last year, to go with a 46.3% ground ball rate, a 3.32 ERA and only 2.86 BB/9.  His record was 10-10 with a Cubs team that struggled mightily all season.  

Now how do you compare these two players who have always played in completely different divisions and have entirely different pitching styles?  Well, it is difficult to do so without looking at each of their past performances and future potential.  Fister averages 89 mph on his fastball, and Garza 93, so arm strength is one advantage that Garza has.  However, in 2011, according to Fangraphs, Garza’s wFB (Fastball Linear Weight) was worth 6.8 runs, in comparison to Fister’s 23.6 runs.  So, despite Garza having a great advantage in velocity, Fister’s fastball was actually a much more effective pitch.  Over his career, Fister has used 2 below average pitches- in his slider and curveball, while his changeup grades out at an average of just over 4 runs per season.  Garza’s changeup is below average, his curveball is average, but his slider is an above average pitch that he threw almost a quarter of the time in 2011.  

Fister is what he is.  He doesn’t strike out a ton, but also doesn’t walk a ton.  He induces ground balls at a high rate, and keeps the ball in the park.  He won’t “wow” you with his stuff… but he is consistent and a dependable starter to have in the rotation behind Verlander.  I would think that in 2012 and beyond, his stats will look more similar to the ones he put up with Seattle than his numbers with Detroit during the past stretch run of 2011.  

Garza is tougher to gauge in my estimation.  He had a few very good years pitching in the AL East for some great Rays teams.  His 2011 season with the Cubs was also solid.  I would think that although he may not accrue a ton of wins, his peripheral stats will continue to shine playing in the paltry NL Central (unless he is traded).  

One of the topics brought up in the debate was that of a hypothetical trade of Garza for Fister straight-up.  There are a few things to consider in this scenario.  First, Garza made $5.95M in 2011, and is likely due a raise to around $8-9M.  Fister made just over the league minimum; $436,500.  He will make a small raise to around $450K in 2012, and will be eligible for arbitration for the first time before the 2013 season.  Second, Garza is under team control through 2013, where Fister is controllable through the 2015 season.  These two facts make Fister a much more valuable asset.  He is cheaper, and will be around for a longer time. So I would hope that the Tigers would say no to that trade if the offer came up.

However, given Garza’s proven track record in the AL East, and his pure stuff grading out higher, I would take Garza if both players were at an even playing field of the same salary and years of team control.  

On the surface- to most people, this seems like an easy decision. But after much research and thought, I decided I would still rather have Garza.  I am going with upside and “stuff” over consistency.  

***Today’s feature was prepared by our Baseball Writer, Rob Bland.  We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers.  You can also follow Blandy on Twitter***

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Posted on January 6, 2012, in MLB Player Profiles and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. Blandy, I am wondering if the person with whom you were having this healthy Garza vs. Fister discussion was in that city where you were located New Year’s Eve . . . if so, I wonder if he is open to future worthwhile baseball discussions. In most fantasy pools this year, Garza should be selected before Fister.

  2. I tentatively agree. I followed the debate a bit on Twitter as it happened and it was a nice interruption to a boring day for baseball. Based on 2011 alone, you have to go with Fister. The problem is Garza has performed well for longer against better teams, and, as you said, has better raw stuff. Fastball velocity may not be critical in predicting future performance, but it isn’t irrelevant. Those few miles per hour may actually mean quite a bit.

  3. Did you know both guys (Garza and Fister) pitched for same college pitching coach – Tim Montez at their respective colleges. (Montez is now at Jacksonville University – FL)

    • Wow…that is an amazing piece of information! Garza and Fister with the same pitching coach. We were more on this than we realized. Thank you for sharing that amazing tidbit!

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