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An Appreciation of Greg Garcia

The utility man was very good for the role he had

Milwaukee Brewers v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Jeff Curry/Getty Images

A baseball team needs to construct a roster with four or five bench players who, between them, can play all eight position player positions. At some point, everyone will need to sit. There is not really an Iron Man in modern day baseball. One of these spots will go to a backup catcher, who usually only plays catcher. Thus, three or four spots need to play the remaining seven positions. You’ll usually have a fourth outfielder and your Matt Stairs type, who is pretty much just there for his bat but can occasionally stand at first or at a corner outfield spot. You’ll notice I whittled down the bench to just one or two spots at this point. That’s the guy who can play every infield position (though usually does not play first even though they very much could)

Throughout the years, the Cardinals have had many people hold this mantle. Dan Descalso, Hector Luna, and of course the Secret Weapon himself, Jose Oquendo (though Oquendo had a pretty good run of being a starter). It’s a weird place they occupy. They are somewhere between not good enough to start and replacement level player. Most often, they end up being being closer to replacement than an ideal utility infielder. For example, Dirty Dan himself was worth a grand total of 0.8 fWAR in his five seasons with the Cards and 0.4 of that was in a season where he got a total of 37 PAs and received a ridiculous boost from UZR. Because baseball, Descalso’s 2018 fWAR was literally double his fWAR with the Cardinals.

Greg Garcia in 2016 and 2017 was the platonic ideal of a backup utility infielder. Unfortunately, he’s going to leave the Cardinals on a bit of a down note, but Garcia was probably better than you realize as a Cardinal overall. He was worth 3.0 fWAR in 860 plate appearances, which believe it or not is a league average player. No I don’t think he’s really that good of a player going forward, but he would still make a pretty good bench player.

Garcia was drafted 229th overall in the 7th round of the 2010 draft as a 20-year-old. He got sent to Johnson City, the highest level of rookie ball in the Cardinals system, and he did pretty well with a 123 wRC+. The Cardinals were impressed enough with him to send him to Peoria for full-season ball in 2011. He was alright with a 110 wRC+, but the Cardinals only needed 46 games to send him to Palm Beach. Known as an extreme pitcher’s park, Garcia killed Palm Beach, batting .290/.400/.419. For the first time, he was showing his extreme patience at the professional level, with a 12.1% BB rate and 16.3% K rate.

He started 2012 at the age of 22 at Springfield. He thrived there too, upping his batting at Palm Beach to a 137 wRC+. Despite their earlier aggressiveness, the Cardinals kept him there through the year. He didn’t exactly falter in AAA the next season, but he did have his worst hitting line to date, which still translated to a 108 wRC+. He repeated AAA at the age of 24 and actually got worse, hitting at a below average line. He got his first taste of the majors and I mean taste, playing in 14 games and having 18 unimpressive plate appearances.

To this point, his career had kind of stalled out, as he hadn’t really improved as a hitter since he made it to Memphis. At 25, he barely exceeded his previous career high wRC+ with a 110 wRC+, but he needed a .351 BABIP to do it. He didn’t really look like a major leaguer at this point. Except that he got a better look at the majors this time - still only 87 plate appearances - and was actually above average as a hitter. He had an 11.5 BB% and 13.8 K% with a .262 BABIP so maybe there was something in him.

Garcia caught a genuine break in 2016. Remember Ruben Tejada? Well, he started that season on the DL. Garcia was the beneficiary of that. Garcia came to the plate 15 times while Tejada was on the DL. He walked four times, hit a homer, doubled, and singled four times, so when Tejada was finally taken off the DL, he went to Memphis with a .600/.733/.1000 line. Yes, it was unfortunate that he got sent down, but he virtually guaranteed himself a trip back to the majors as soon as possible.

The Cardinals sent Garcia up to the majors on May 26 when Matt Carpenter took paternity leave. Despite the promise of only a few games, that was literally the last time Greg Garcia has ever been in the minors. Pretty cool, huh? When Carpenter was activated off the DL, Tejada had done poorly enough in his short time that he was designated for assignment and Garcia had a role on the bench.

Garcia didn’t quite maintain his torrid start, but he was more than competent as a backup utility infielder with a 98 wRC+ for the rest of the season. He finished the season with a 111 wRC+. Garcia was absurd that season. Despite not having much power at all (.093 ISO), he managed to walk 14.8% of the time while striking out 19.5% of the time. Pitchers probably knew he didn’t have any power and they still walked him. He was worse in every way in 2016, though that was to be expected. He still walked at nearly a 13% pace despite even less power and finished with a 94 wRC+.

Garcia had a down year this year, but he kind of had it coming. In his first year in the majors, he had a .346 BABIP. In his second year, it dropped to a still high .335 BABIP. I don’t know if you’ve ever watched Greg Garcia bat, but he’s not exactly a guy you expect to post high BABIPs. Sure enough, it dropped far in 2018, all the way to .259 and it was pretty much the only reason he was as bad of a hitter as he was. He did walk at “only” a 9.6% pace (which I would take from anybody on the Cardinals not named Matt Carpenter or Dexter Fowler), but his K% dropped all the way to 17.8%. No Greg Garcia shouldn’t be expected to be a .335 BABIP hitter, but he should be expected to be a .300 BABIP hitter and if he managed that in 2018, he’d probably be around a 90 wRC+ hitter, not a 72 wRC+ hitter.

When I think of Greg Garcia, I will think of him as a guy who did one thing well and one thing only and make a career out of that one thing. That one thing is walking. He has a career 12.3 BB% even though there’s really no reason anyone should walk him (sorry Greg). I’m slightly exaggerating. He was a halfway capable defender - not great, but somewhere around average at 2B and 3B, passable but below average at SS - and had good enough contact skills to avoid strikeouts too much. And now for his career highlights!

Greg Garcia first career home run to tie the game against the Cubs!

Garcia walk-off HBP against the Cubs doing his best Anthony Rizzo impression because he leaned into that like a pro

Garcia with a walk-off walk - he’s got to be one of the only guys to have a walk-off HBP and walk-off walk, right?

Also never forget that Greg Garcia hit the longest home run of 2017 somehow

I’m not sure if I forgot any highlights, but those are the ones I could find. If you have another highlight in mind, I encourage you to share.