If I was Jaime Garcia, I would request a recount.
The St. Louis Chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America announced that the 29-year-old left-hander is sharing the team’s 2015 Bauman Physical Comeback Award with fellow starting pitcher Adam Wainwright*.
While Wainwright is indisputably the team’s ace and mounted an inspirational early in-season return from an Achilles injury, his actual impact on the 2015 St. Louis Cardinals’ 100-win season was minimal – 0.9 WAR, to be precise.
He turned that performance into something that coming into the season, no one, myself included, expected would possibly happen.
Garcia earned the team’s pick up of his 2016 contract option, valued at $11.5 million.
Talk about a comeback!
With Garcia heading into 2015 spring training with injury questions for the third straight year, few were counting on him to deliver much of anything. July 2014 thoracic outlet surgery had been the latest in a long string of physical ailments suffered by the left-hander.
Through three spring outings, however, Garcia was pitching well enough to apparently take the lead in the fifth starter competition with Carlos Martinez and Marco Gonzales. Then the club decided to push Garcia in an 80-pitch simulated game on March 24th (see photo). The lefty felt discomfort afterward and did not throw again in camp. He was placed on the disabled list to open the season.
On May 21, Garcia was activated for the first time since spring training. Essentially, the lefty took the injured Wainwright’s rotation spot that neither Tim Cooney nor Tyler Lyons could hold. Later, Garcia missed three weeks in July with a groin injury.
When healthy, Garcia was fantastic during the regular season. He led the rotation in both ERA (2.43) and FIP (3.00) and had the lowest walk rate (2.1 per nine innings). Garcia excelled despite having to often pitch on the edge, with the lowest average run support among Cardinals starters (3.1 runs). He pitched deeply into games with his 6 1/3 inning average just 1/3 of a frame behind team leader John Lackey.
For the NLDS, with Martinez out and Michael Wacha and Lance Lynn less than 100 percent, the starting burden fell to Lackey and Garcia.
It did not end well for the latter, however.
Battling the flu in silence, Garcia did not inform manager Mike Matheny of his illness until one hour before first pitch of his scheduled Game 2 start. A quick decision was made to stay the course.
After getting through the first unscathed, Garcia fell apart in the second inning, allowing five unearned runs, with his own throwing error playing a crucial role. Still, Chicago’s first three scores came on balls that did not leave the infield – until Jorge Soler’s two-run home run put the final dagger into Garcia’s outing. The Cardinals lost the lead, dropped Game 2, and three days later, their 2015 was over.
To some observers, the NLDS flu incident undid all the good Garcia accomplished during the regular season.
I do not see it that way, however. While the flu situation was definitely poorly-handled, Garcia proved to be the team’s best starter when healthy in 2015 while filling in admirably for Wainwright.
Garcia’s next step is to aim to pitch a full season in 2016 – something he has accomplished only once in his career – to earn his $12 million team option for 2017. Of course, there will still be plenty of doubters.
* Tickets for the 58th annual St. Louis Baseball Writers Dinner, to be held on January 17, 2016, can be purchased online at stlouisbbwaa.com or by calling Brown Paper Tickets (1-800-838-3006).
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