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Armando Galarraga almost perfect for a game, but not the season

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Every weekday between now and mid-November, we'll be looking closer at a Tigers player. For more information on the series, including a schedule, please check this post out.

For one June night, Armando Galarraga was almost perfect. Actually, let's be honest here. He was better than perfect. Major League Baseball and its umpires just didn't see it the same way. Que sera sera. An issue for the past.

So what happened after that incredible night? Rather than be all the more confident in his stuff, Galarraga reverted to the pitcher who would timidly, frustratingly nibble against the batters rather than challenge them. The result was a sometimes-good, sometimes-bad pitcher who had a 4.82 ERA in the 123.1 innings he threw after he infamously shut out the Indians on June 2.

It's a shame Galarraga can do little more than tantalize and tease. His 2008 season in Detroit showed that you don't need to be a power pitcher to be successful. (It also showed that a little luck on balls in play over the course of a season can go a long way toward having favorable results.) He finished that year with a 3.73 ERA and a 2-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He was fourth in the Rookie of the Year voting. His "perfect" game this year again showed how good he can be at times. Unfortunately, he just hasn't given reason to believe he will be that pitcher on a daily basis, not can he find much consistency in between the good and bad. You always believe Galarraga is just about to turn the corner, but too often he peeks around it and turns back.

C-.

Oh, as long as we're talking here, let's admit Galarraga is a good reason measuring a pitcher by wins and losses is a bad idea. He won just two games after the "perfect game" despite the fact he allowed three runs or less 10 times. One of the two games he did win, he allowed four runs. The W-L stat is meaningless. It doesn't tell us about the pitcher. Let's just agree to drop it, OK?

Year Age ERA G IP H R ER BB SO HBP ERA+ WHIP BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2010 28 4.49 25 144.1 143 75 72 51 74 4 93 1.344 3.2 4.6 1.45
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/2/2010.

Looking closer at his stats on Fangraphs, we can see that his fastball and change-up were a little worse than league average pitches. His slider was a couple of runs below average. His curve was average. Another observation: Galarraga got fewer swings and misses this year than ever in his major-league career. If luck swings back against Galarraga in 2011, he very well could put up an ERA over 5.00.

What 2010 tells us about 2011:

What do you get when you look at the fielding independent numbers for this season? An even worse picture than the actual results. His FIP was 5.09, and his xFIP normalizing home runs was 5.44. So Galarraga's season could have been a lot worse. That also means if "luck" swings back in the other direction--no guarantee it will by the way--he could be in for a tough season unless he shows great improvement across the board.

Even if Galarraga finds confidence in his stuff, he's not going to magically turn into a front-line starter. But that's not what would be asked of him anyway. He just has to prove to be a little better than league average. As of right now, he's a little better than replacement: About a half game to full game better, depending on which system you choose to follow.

At this point, you have to expect (hope) the Tigers will not stand pat with the American League's 12th-ranked rotation. Because Tigers have already stated they are "99 percent" certain of making Phil Coke a starter, then any real gains will be made by replacing Galarraga. He will either be jettisoned for an offseason acquisition, or he'll be competing with an internal candidate. Summed up: I think his time in Detroit is running short.

Resources:

Baseball Prospectus, Fangraphs