Analyzing the Belliard Return

For those who haven't figured out who the PTBNL was in the Nats' recent deal with the Dodgers, it was 24-year-old AA left-hander Victor Garate.  Garate has been outstanding out of the bullpen in Chattanooga this season, striking out 56 against 23 walks in 53 innings.  He's maintained a 2.04 ERA, a .196 Batting Average Against, and a 2.86 FIP.  Garate is rumored to be equally as good against both right-handed hitters and left-handed hitters, which would certainly indicate that in the long run, he's not going to just become a LOOGY (or Lefty One Out Guy for those unfamiliar with the term) out of the bullpen.

In fact, after the Dodgers had acquired him as a Rule V pick from Houston prior to the 2008 season (not sure how that worked... he was in the minors all season, so I guess Houston chose not to buy him back), they tried him out as a starter.  It appears that Garate was extremely effective in the role at A ball (1.85 ERA, 2.41 FIP, 103:28 K:BB ratio in 77.2 IP... 12 of his 17 appearances were starts), though he was a bit old for the level.  After a late-season call to High A as a starter (4.70 ERA, 4.11 FIP, 47:14 K:BB ratio in 38.1 IP, all as a starter), Garate transitioned back to the bullpen full-time as he started 2009 at AA.  He currently ranks sixth among full-time relievers with a 9.51 K/9 ratio and sixth among relievers with 56 strikeouts. 

Garate is certainly further along in his development than the other player acquired in the deal (22-year-old RHP Luis Garcia).  Neither were rated among the Dodgers' top twenty prospects in the preseason according to John Sickels.  True Blue LA had a midseason prospect ranking thread where three different guys ranked their prospects.  Garate was #20 with two of them and #28 with the other.  Garcia ended up ranked #22 on one list, but didn't appear on the other two.  Memories of Kevin Malone (yeah... found some Dodgers' sites) compiled a September Dodgers' prospect rankings and had Garate ranked 11th, up from 18th in the preseason.

I can't find a whole lot of anything on Luis Garcia's stuff (could be that he's not the first Luis Garcia ever to play professional baseball.... finding a scouting report wasn't easy).  As for Garate, I did find a nice little scouting report (again, complements of Memories of Kevin Malone).  His fastball certainly isn't overpowering (low 90s on the high end), though he has terrific command of it.  He's got a solid slider which he doesn't command nearly as well.  Apparently his changeup is his best offering, but he apparently still has some work to do with his location in that area as well.  As was the case with Baseball America, Brian Fuentes was mentioned.  He's really deceptive with his delivery.

What I like about the deal: I hate to go all Moneyball, and I'm sure that the scouting department liking what they saw had as much to do with the guys that they got as anything (particularly with Garcia, who has to be more of a projectability pickup than Garate), but..... Rather than going all willy-nilly after the old toolsy types that Rizzo's predecessor liked so much, he capitalized by getting a couple of guys who are dominating statistically despite not necessarily having outstanding tools.  Again, Garate doesn't have a fastball that's going to blow anyone away.  In fact, as the fine people at Memories of Kevin Malone said in the scouting report I read, his raw stuff probably screams to you that he's a finesse lefty.  He hasn't been, though.  Garate fanned 150 batters in 116 innings between A and High A last year.  He's fanned over a batter an inning this season.  He's struck out 404 in 315 career minor league innings.  His command's solid.  He's put up outstanding numbers two years running, and he certainly looks like he should be able to help the big club as soon as next season. 

It's the same with Garcia, who hasn't been as dominant as Garate has, but has had a strong season on the hill himself.  He's displayed terrific control (15 BB in 72 IP, counting his P-Nats debut) while maintaining a strong ERA (2.92) and an FIP that indicates the ERA isn't out of whack (3.24).  He hasn't posted big strikeout numbers (57 in 72 IP), but he does keep the ball down (1.79 GB/FB ratio).  He's 22, in his first go-around at A ball (actually, High A now), and still at least a couple of years away.  Still, his statistical performance this season has been fine across the board.  We'll have to see how he does at the higher levels, but he's at least a couple of years away. 

Purging Belliard from the team essentially meant nothing.  As I kept trying to point out around the non-waiver deadline, losing him (or [the now shockingly injured] Nick Johnson.... or Cristian Guzman [God, I wish they could have found a taker!]) probably costs the team 1-3 wins at the most the rest of the way (considering how late in the year we are, we can probably put that more in the 0.75-1.25 wins range).  In essence, instead of finishing 57-105, we finish 55-107.  A 100 loss team is a 100 loss team is a 100 loss team.  I'd much rather see them make roster moves that made sense for the future than try and win another meaningless game or two during September in a lost year. 

For one month of Belliard, we got six cost-controlled years (each) of Garate and Garcia.  Even if only one of them pans out (even if only for a year or two), that's a sweet deal.

What I didn't like about the deal: Honestly, there's not much not to like.  You could quibble that the Nats could possibly have done a little better by dealing Belliard in the preseason (since Acta was convinced Anderson Hernandez was his starter anyway), and you might be right.  I don't think they were going to do any better at this point, though, and it's better than just losing him for nothing at the end of the year. 

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