Betting on Avisail Garcia - A Guest Post by Mike Musary

Avisail Garcia was just dripping with tools when the White Sox acquired him at the trade deadline in 2013. He was fast, he (allegedly) had good instincts defensively, and he had a lot of raw power that would hopefully translate into 20-25 home runs a season with ease. If he lived up to all of this hype, then he was a great centerpiece in the deal that shipped veteran Jake Peavy out of town. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case and, it’s unlikely to say the least, that Garcia will ever reach those lofty expectations that were placed upon him. The White Sox appear, for the moment, to be willing to bet on Avisail Garcia improving and helping the team in the upcoming season. But is this a good bet? I don’t think so, but I wanted to take a look and see what historical data would say about it.

Instead of focusing on what all of the tools suggest is possible, I wanted to focus on the production and what has happened for Garcia and try to compare that to other major league baseball players. So far in his career, Garcia has had 1098 plate appearances with a slash line of .264/.311/.385, which is good enough for a wRC+ of 90, or 10% below major league average. When that is combined with what the eye test and defensive metrics unanimously say about his defense – that he is very bad – and his poor base running, Garcia adds up to a guy who’s been worth a total -1.9 fWAR in his young career. That’s, again, very bad. This got me thinking, how many players in Avi’s age range have been this bad through roughly their first 1100 plate appearances and then gone on to have successful major league careers?

The first thing I did was try to set up some search parameters to help answer my question. I wanted to look at players that A) had accumulated at least 1000 major league plate appearance before their age 25 season and B) performed at or below replacement level during those plate appearances according to fWAR. Looking at Fangraphs’ numbers from 1970 to 2005 (to allow for some career development, it’s safe to say Garcia is in #Elite company. In 35 years, I found only 26 players that fit this criteria, and let’s just say none of these names really stand out as above average major league baseball players:

If we look at purely the summary statistics, based on the limited sample we have, the odds Garcia ever becomes a functional everyday major league baseball player are bleak:

Because of this lack of data, I went about looking into another avenue with Garcia, focusing on wRC+ and not fWAR. Defense doesn’t really develop much, and often peaks at a younger age as players tend to become less athletic and slower as they age, so I wanted to see what the odds were that Garcia’s bat develops, even with a poor glove. So again, I went looking for players between 1970 and 2005 that had accumulated more than 1000 plate appearances (but less than 1500 plate appearances as I felt more plate appearances would give us less volatility in future performance relative to Avi) before his age 25 season and had a wRC+ between 80 and 95 during that time span. This criteria returned a more “robust” sample of 37 players. I then took a look at what the post age 24 wRC+ along with what each player’s peak wRC+ was for his post age 24 seasons was for these players and again found some uninspiring results. Please note that an N/A means that the given player never again reached 400 plate appearances in a single season, as I used that cutoff to eliminate fluke peaks in small sample variation.

And the summary statistics on the difference from the pre-25 wRC+ to Rest of Career wRC+:

So the likelihood that Garcia ever turned out to be much more than an average-ish player at the plate is also incredibly low, and that is a big problem as his bat is likely to be his only asset moving forward.

I know WAR has its limitations, and positional adjustment values can be a little bit hokey, but I think it’s reasonable to suggest that Garcia is probably going to cost you at least 10 runs defensively in right field, and one should probably dock him another 7.5 runs or so for playing a corner OF spot for a full season to account for scarcity of offensive players at given defensive positions. In 601 plate appearances this past season, Garcia accumulated a positive value of +17.6 runs for his replacement adjustment (an adjustment a player gets for theoretically not being a replacement player) which, almost too perfectly, is a wash for the (negative) value Garcia adds by being a poor defensive corner outfielder. Garcia would get a small boost from his league adjustment (maybe 2 runs or so), but when you add all of this up, it means that Garcia probably has to be worth something like 20 runs offensively to become an average 2 to 2.5 WAR major league player. That’s really hard to do.

To put something like this into context, in 2015, Jose Abreu and his 129 wRC+ over 668 plate appearances was worth 21.1 runs offensively! That’s how good Garcia has to be in order to be someone that a playoff team should feel good about playing every day. That’s a jump of 39 “points” in wRC+! Which is not only larger than any of the of the jumps from Pre-25 wRC+ to Rest of Career wRC+, but only 7 of 37 (19%) players achieved an increase that large in their peak season! So, even if you were betting that 2016 is Garcia’s best offensive season as a pro (unlikely by nature), based on historical evidence, you’d still have incredibly bad odds that he would be the kind of offensive player that would merit playing time as an everyday right fielder on a playoff contending team.

It’s unfortunate, for my own investigative purposes – not for major league baseball, that there’s such a small sample of players that have been as young AND as bad as Garcia has been. It’s hard to really draw meaningful conclusions from such a small sample, but the data, however limited it may be, suggests that while Garcia may not be the black hole that he is today, it’s rather unlikely that he’ll ever be much more than an average major league baseball player at even his 99th percentile outcome.

Right now the White Sox desperately need every shard of value they can get from a corner OF spot in order to make the playoffs, and banking on Garcia to provide some of that value is a really bad bet and not one a hopeful playoff team should be making. It’s great to have hope and try to discount all of that bad information Garcia has generated thus far, but it’s just not a good idea and I think the White Sox would be best served to deal Garcia and open up a roster spot for someone else, someone better, that increases their odds of a playoff berth.