The Pittsburgh Pirates will have an upcoming decision regarding Jarlin Garcia and his team option within the near future
The Pittsburgh Pirates signed left-handed pitcher Jarlin Garcia last off-seaosn with the hopes he could become a key part of the team’s bullpen. Garcia had pitched to a 2.89 ERA, 3.87 FIP, and 1.08 WHIP in his four prior seasons. Garcia may have only had a 21.6% strikeout rate, but his 1.06 HR/9 was roughly average, and he kept walks to a minimum with a 7.2% walk rate. Garcia had also proven to be fairly durable, pitching in 50+ games in all three full seasons, and pitching 60+ innings in each of 2021-2022.
The Pirates were fairly confident in Garcia’s abilities, giving him a one-year deal for only $2.5 million. This contract also included a $3.5 million club option for 2024 as well. With such a relatively team friendly deal, it seemed like the Pirates may have gotten both a solid and durable lefty reliever for the next two seasons, but Garcia’s 2023 has been far from what was expected.
Garcia was put on the injured list in the spring with some worrying symptoms. Although scans of his arm were negative, Garcia was having trouble even gripping a baseball, let alone being able to throw one. However, since Spring Training, there’s been little to no update on Garcia’s health. It was reported in July that he was throwing “informally” but with no set date to return, or a scheduled regiment yet, his status was left unknown.
That means the Pirates will have an interesting decision in the upcoming off-season: bring back Garcia for a relatively cheap price, or let him go in free agency. In my opinion, I think the team should go with the latter option, saving the money they would have given Garcia, and using that later on in the off-season toward other free agents.
First reason is that Garcia missing the entire season is one thing, but basically not having any update on his health or progress is another thing. If Garcia had been working his way back, and there were updates on his progress, I would be far more willing to bring the lefty back. Given his track record, he could still be a solid LHRP, but I feel I am not the only one concerned that there’s been no official update since the start of the season. Of course, the Pirates probably know more than we do, but forgive me for being concerned there's been little to no update on him over the last six months.
The second reason is that the Pirates already have some decent LHRPs they’ll have going into next season. Ryan Borucki has emerged as a high-quality lefty reliever, having pitched 38.1 innings, and working to a 2.58 ERA, 3.57 FIP, and 0.78 WHIP. Batters struggle to get on base against Borucki, and that’s a major understatement. Borucki has held opponents to a .190 BA, and has allowed just four free passes for a 2.8 BB%. Amongst lefty relievers with at least 30 innings pitched out of the bullpen, Borucki has the second lowest BB%. Strikeouts aren’t his thing with a 22.1% strikeout rate, and he has a relatively solid 0.94 HR/9.
That’s not the end of the positives of Borucki’s season. Batters haven’t been able to square Borucki’s stuff up either. He has just an 85.9 MPH exit velocity, 29.5% hard-hit rate, and 5.7% barrel rate. Had Borucki pitched enough this year to qualify, he would have been above the 95th percentile in both hard hit rate and exit velocity, as well as above the 80th percentile in barrel rate. Borucki has been elite at both limiting walks and hard-hit baseballs. It also helps that he has a quality 45.6% ground ball rate.
Some might point to his .218 batting average on balls in play as a sign of good luck, and while he might not be able to sustain a rate that low, he’ll never post one above .250 if he stays allergic to hard contact. Borucki has even become a reliable high-leverage pitcher. The Pirates have entrusted him with the 7th-9th innings multiple times in the last month of the year, and he’s yet to give up an earned run and has walked just a single batter. When handed high-leverage games, Borucki has held batters to a pristine .158/.238/.158 batting line, including just three singles and two walks.
The other unsung LHRP of the 2023 season has been Angel Perdomo. Perdomo hit the injured list in late-August, which ended his season. But prior to his IL placement, Perdomo served as a very solid bullpen piece. In 29 innings, Perdomo worked to a 3.72 ERA, but a 3.02 FIP, and 1.10 WHIP. Perdomo struck out well over a third of opponents with a 37.6% strikeout rate, but paired that with a respectable 9.4% BB% and 0.93 HR/9. Perdomo wasn’t as good at limiting hard contact as Borucki, but his 88.2 MPH exit velo and 37.3% hard-hit rate were both above average.
Perdomo’s ERA may seem a tad high, though it’s not as bad once you look under the hood. Aside from his FIP in the low-3s, all other ERA estimators point to better pitching in the future from Perdomo. He also had a 3.16 xFIP, 2.63 SIERA, 2.76 xERA, 77 DRA-.
While Perdomo hasn’t done as well as Borucki in high-leverage, he’s still not done bad. Perdomo held opponents to just a .250/.429/.323 triple-slash when given the rock in high-leverage games. Most of his issues trace back to handing out walks in higher leverage, though he was able to work around them, and didn’t give up very many XBH. He might not be the go-to high-leverage lefty, but he’s had no problems handling said situation when asked to.
Then there’s Jose Hernandez. Hernandez has had lots of ups and downs in his rookie year, but he’s been a fine Rule 5 draft pick. There are definitely far worse former Rule 5 picks out there. However, now that the Pirates have kept Hernandez on their roster all year, they’ll have the opportunity to option him to Triple-A without having to use an injury as an excuse.
Because of how well both Borucki and Perdomo have done this year, and the fact the Pirates will also have Hernandez on hand (even if he doesn’t break camp to open next year), I don’t see the Pirates bringing Jarlin Garcia back. Garcia missing an entire year makes his $3.5 million option look kind of pricey for any team. Even if the Pirates feel they need some extra LHRP depth, I'd rather see them sign someone like Richard Bleier, Daniel Norris, Fernando Abad, Drew Pomeranz, or former Pirate Chasen Shreve to a minor league deal and stash them at Triple-A instead of picking up Garcia's option. Considering the Pirates now have options to fill in the left-handed bullpen roles, Garica is no longer a needed commodity for the Pirates.