After a frigid hot stove season, Dayton Moore and JJ Picollo made their first major move of the offseason on Wednesday afternoon, as they acquired left-handed reliever Amir Garrett from the Cincinnati Reds in exchange for left-handed starter Mike Minor:
Now, at the surface level, this deal isn’t all that impressive, especially since Garrett is a reliever (while Minor was a starter). That being said, the deal saves the Royals nearly $8.5 million dollars (though who knows how much the cash considerations were), and it opens up the possibility of the Royals perhaps acquiring a big-name veteran pitcher before Opening Day.
Already, Ken Rosenthal has thrown out a name that has gotten Royals fans (including myself) quite excited on Twitter:
Now, the Montas talk will be reserved for a separate post.
Update: No Montas, but the Royals just made a huge starting pitcher splash as I wrote this post. More on this later but here’s the Tweet below:
While there will be much more to talk about after all of the moves today, let’s take a look at three quick things about the Royals’ newly acquired reliever, and why Royals fans should be excited about his impending arrival to Kansas City.
Garrett Will Benefit From The Change in Park and Defense
Garrett had a rough last season in Cincinnati at the surface level, as he posted a 6.04 ERA and 1.57 WHIP in 63 appearances and 47.2 IP. Both his ERA and WHIP numbers were his worst marks since his rookie season in 2017.
However, a deeper dive into his Statcast metrics via Baseball Savant paint a more optimistic outlook for 2022.
Granted, Garrett did see an increase in hard-hit rate from 2020 (41.7 percent) to 2021 (47.2) as well as an increase in BB rate (10.1 percent to 13.5 percent) and a decrease in K rate (37.7 percent to 28.4 percent). On the other hand, his barrel rate did decrease from a career-high of 11.1 percent in 2020 to 9.6 in 2021, and the launch angle on batted balls was 8.9 degrees, the second-lowest mark in his career.
Therefore, it’s not a surprise that Garrett’s expected ERA (xERA) of 4.38 was more palatable than his actual ERA in 2021.
While the increase in walks and decrease in strikeouts hurt, Garrett had a couple of factors working against him in 2021 in Cincinnati.
First off, he pitched in traditionally one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the league, and that trend did not change last season according to Statcast Park Factors.
Last year, not only was Cincinnati’s Great American Ballpark the third-most hitter-friendly park in baseball on an overall park factor end (behind only Coors Field and Fenway Park), but it was also the most home-run friendly park in baseball to boot.
In fact, take a look at the difference between GAB and Kauffman Stadium when it comes to HR park factors last season:
Garrett has always suffered on an HR/FB rate end over the course of his career, as he has a career HR/FB rate of 22 percent, which included a 20.9 HR/FB rate allowed last season, according to Fangraphs. Last year, even though Garrett had a much higher groundball rate at home than on the road (57.1 percent vs. 42.6 percent), his HR/FB rate was 7.6 percent lower on the road than at GAB.
Hence, Garrett will benefit from the more pitcher-friendly confines of Kauffman, where flyballs are less likely to go for home runs than in Cincinnati.
In addition to the ballpark, Garrett will benefit from a much better defense behind him in 2022.
Last year, the Royals ranked 10th in runs prevented, according to Baseball Savant. And that was with Jorge Soler playing a decent amount in right field and Hunter Dozier at third base, which won’t be the case in 2022.
As for the Reds, they ranked dead last in runs prevented at -18, which is nearly 20 runs worse than what the Royals did in 2021.
Thus, Garrett will enjoy the change of scenery not just on a home park end, but on a defensive end as well in 2022, which in turn should help him rebound in his first season in Kansas City after a tough 2021 campaign.
Garrett’s Slider Has Traditionally Been a Plus Pitch
Garrett pretty much relies on two pitches, as he threw his four-seamer 48.8 percent of the time and his slider 51.1 percent of the time last season (he only threw his sinker once, according to Savant). Now, if Garrett was a starter, having only two pitches would be worrisome. However, as a late-inning reliever, it’s not necessarily a bad thing (I mean Mariano Rivera pretty much thrived with one pitch, after all).
Garrett’s best pitch has traditionally been his slider, which can be seen in the run value data from the table below via Baseball Savant:
As Royals fans can see, last year was a tough year for Garrett’s slider, as it posted a run value of +2, the first time it generated positive value (positive is not good) since his rookie season in 2017. It seemed like hitters got fortunate on the pitch, as the slugging percentage of .343 on the pitch was 38 points higher than his expected slugging (.305) in 2021. Thus, as stated in the section above, Garrett could see some more fortune on the pitch (and regression of that slugging) in the transition to Kauffman as well as with a better defense behind him in 2022.
Now, his slider did see a decrease in both whiff and strikeout rates from 2020 to 2021 (9.3 and 5.9 percent, respectively). However, the put-away percentage on the pitch (the rate of the pitch putting out batters in two-strike situations) stayed pretty stable at 32 percent, which was a less than one percent difference from his 2020 as well as 2019 marks on the pitch.
Here’s an example of Garrett utilizing the slider effectively to punch out Pittsburgh’s Michael Chavis, a right-handed hitter, in an October 1st game at PNC Park:
Let’s also take a look at how Garrett utilizes the slider against the left-handed Jackie Bradley Jr. of Milwaukee in a July 10th game. In this at-bat, Garrett throws it in the same area of the strike zone, and gets Bradley to strike out looking in the process:
What’s interesting to note is that even in a down season, Garrett has been pretty effective against both righties and lefties when it comes to utilizing the slider as a strikeout pitch. That being said, the month-by-month trends from last season produced some interesting data that could be worth watching in Garrett’s first year with the Royals.
In this first graph below, notice how he got better at striking out right-handed batters with the slider after a slow start in the first couple of months of play.
On the flip side, let’s look at that same monthly K rate trend with the slider, only this time with the focus being against right-handed hitters:
As Royals fans can see, Garrett’s slider saw much higher strikeout peaks against left-handed batters in 2021, but also saw a sharper decline, especially from July (over 60 percent) to September (under 20 percent). Against right-handed hitters though, while it didn’t see those K rate peaks, it was much more consistent when it came to generating punchouts.
If Garrett wants to rebound in 2022 and be a dependable arm in the Royals bullpen, he will need to see some gains on his slider, not just overall, but especially against left-handed hitters.
Garrett and The Intensity He Brings to Kansas City
The most endearing part about Garrett is his super-competitive demeanor not just on the mound, but in general, which isn’t often seen in Major League Baseball, due to “unwritten rules” (which sucks).
A former basketball player at St. John’s, Garrett will bring a lot of leadership and fire to this Royals squad in 2022, which was mentioned by The Athletic’s Alec Lewis, shortly after the Royals announced the Garrett acquisition:
To most baseball fans, when it comes to Garrett, most will remember him for his 2019 tussle with the Pittsburgh Pirates where he pretty much took on the entire bench by himself (and straight from the mound as well):
However, it’s not just that moment where Garrett got into it with an opposing team.
Last year, Garrett and the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo got into a verbal altercation when Garrett was on the mound in Cincinnati, even though the damage was a lot less than what baseball fans saw between the Reds and Pirates in 2019:
More conservative baseball fans may not like Garrett’s panache and bravado, but this is Kansas City, and the Royals have been dying for a fiery competitor since Yordano Ventura passed away.
After all, who could forget all the moments Yordano had during his short, but memorable tenure with the Kansas City Royals from 2013 to 2016:
If Royals fans loved Yordano, then they will certainly love Garrett, who will bring that fire not only back to the Kauffman Stadium, but the Royals dugout as well in 2022.
Photo Credit: Jim Owens-USA TODAY Sports