Garko Finds A Home

The Mariners signed 1B Ryan Garko to a one-year, $550,000 contract earlier today. Garko was inexplicably non-tendered by the Giants last month, only to pave the way for Aubrey Huff. Garko, an above average bat with a league average glove, was entering his first year of arbitration when the Giants decided his probable $1 million salary was too expensive for their tastes (Brian Sabean much preferred paying Adam LaRoche $17 million for two years or Aubrey Huff, whose WAR was a whopping -1.1 last season, $3 million).

I like this move for the Mariners for two reasons. The first is that Garko is a lefties masher. In 485 PAs vs lefties for his career, Ryan Garko is a .313/.392/.495 (.887 OPS) hitter. His .266/.335/.420 (.755 OPS) line against righties is far less impressive, but still league average nonetheless. Jack Zduriencik hinted that Garko would platoon with Ken Griffey Jr., taking full advantage of Garko's skills.

The second reason I like this move is that the Mariners bought low on a quality offensive player. Despite the "down years" in 2008 and 2009 which made 2006 and 2007 seem like a fluke, it was bad luck which largely masked the fact that Garko's skills improved last season. Whereas Garko struck out 20% of the time and walked approximately 6.5% of the time from 2006-2007, Garko posted a 7.3% BB% and 14.1% K% last season. The strikeout rate has come down every season since 2006. Garko's power was down a bit last season (.153 ISO) compared to 2006 (.178 ISO) and 2007 (.194 ISO), but it bounced back from a low .131 mark in 2008 and was a robust .180 on the Indians before he was traded to the Giants a few days before the trade deadline. It is easy to forget that Ryan Garko posted a sexy .361 wOBA with the Indians last season. It was only when Garko was shipped away to San Francisco that things turned sour -- and you can blame most of that on a .243 BABIP across 127 very limited PAs.

Despite all the bad press stemming from his boring overall .268/.344/.421 (.765 OPS) triple slash line from last season, Garko was still 7% better than the league average player offensively. True, the average MLB first baseman hit .277/.362/.483 (.845 OPS) in 2009, but Garko was also hindered by a cumulative .282 BABIP (.304 xBABIP, according to THT's xBABIP calculator calculator). If we adjust Garko's BABIP to match his xBABIP and assume all of his additional hits would have been singles, Garko's 2009 expected triple slash line would have been a very respectable .288/.362/.441 (.803 OPS). CHONE projections peg Garko as a +8 run bat and -2 run glove per 150 games next year. Combined this with a -12.5 positional and +20.0 replacement adjustment, and you've got a decent +1 to +1.5 WAR bat at your disposal. Obviously, Garko won't see 150 games in a platoon, but he also won't see a lot of righties, so let's just say he's a +1 WAR player next season. Pair this with a league average glove and a salary which is less than 20% of that of Aubrey Huff, and Jack Z's got a bargain on his hands (+1 WAR has cost approximately $3.7 million in free agency dollars this offseason).

By contrast, by the way, CHONE projects Aubrey Huff as a +1 run bat and -1 run bat per 150 games. Factor in the positional (-12.5) and replacement (+20.0) adjustments, and you've got yourself a +0.5 WAR player. Makes you wonder what Brian Sabean is doing out there in San Fran.