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Should Freddy García be in the Mariners Hall of Fame?

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Before there was Félix, the Mariners had another great Venezuelan pitcher who wore #34

Seattle Mariners’ pitcher Freddy Garcia pitches in Game 1 of Photo by Andrew Savulich/NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images

July 31, 1998 was the dawn of a new day for the Seattle Mariners.

Heading down the stretch of a disappointing season, the defending AL West champs traded franchise icon Randy Johnson to the Houston Astros. The trade would prove to be the first domino in a string of moves that saw Johnson, Ken Griffey Jr., and Alex Rodriguez all leave the Emerald City within two and a half years. In offloading Johnson, the Mariners signaled to the rest of the league that they were ready to softly phase out of the mid-90s stretch that had brought them national relevance and kept the team in Seattle.

In return for the best pitcher in club history, the Mariners received Freddy García (great!), Carlos Guillén (good!), and a player to be named later that ended up being John Halama (sure!). Each member of that trio contributed significantly at some point, but only García blossomed into the type of player a team dreams of when trading Randy Johnson.

García made his MLB debut for the Mariners just months after the trade. Earning a spot in the rotation out of Spring Training, the 22-year-old made 33 starts in 1999, finishing the season with a 17-8 record, 4.07 ERA, 170 strikeouts, and 5.4 bWAR in 201.1 innings. He’d place second in the Rookie of the Year voting, losing out to Kansas City’s Carlos Beltrán, and finish ninth in the Cy Young race. Though the Mariners missed the playoffs in ’99 and Johnson continued his dominance after signing with Arizona, the M’s could take solace in the fact that they’d landed a young, gifted ace to lead their rotation for years to come.

Freddy García (1999-2004)

Seasons w/ SEA Starts IP W L ERA FIP WHIP ERA+ K/9 BB/9 bWAR fWAR
Seasons w/ SEA Starts IP W L ERA FIP WHIP ERA+ K/9 BB/9 bWAR fWAR
6 169 1,096.1 76 50 3.89 4.13 1.299 114 6.7 3.2 18.6 17.9

I was shocked to see that García’s strikeout rate was so low, especially considering his status as a topline starter for a playoff contender. While my memories of him definitely include more finesse than power, and the style of play during his heyday was less strikeout-happy than today, a 6.7 K/9 seemed suspiciously low. While pitching for the Mariners, García never struck out more than 20% of the hitters he faced in a single season, and he wasn’t that great at limiting walks either. He was, however, an honor student at the school of pitching to contact.

While FanGraphs’ data doesn’t include his entire Mariner tenure, it feels safe to assume that the 41.6% and 41.0% ground ball rates from 2002 and 2003 are in line with his figures from 1999-2001, which is before those numbers were available. Same is probably true for the 12.7% hard-hit percentage from both ’02 and ’03 and the line drive percentages under 25%. Freddy made his living by inducing weak grounders and lazy fly balls, a strategy that earned him two All-Star appearances and an ERA crown. Leading the American League in ERA in 2001 made García just the second Mariner ever to accomplish the feat, joining the man he was traded for. Félix Hernández – a native Venezeulan just like García, is the only Mariner to do it since – and he did so wearing the same #34 jersey.

Freddy meets the service time requirement the team has in place for its Hall of Fame. He was objectively good numbers-wise, played for good teams, pitched well in the postseason, and was generally adored by the fanbase. How do I know this? My own father, even years after Félix Hernández had established himself as the Mariners’ premiere attraction, still accidentally referred to him as Freddy. That’s called leaving an IMPRESSION, folks.

García vs Current HOF Pitchers

Pitcher Seasons w/ SEA IP W L K ERA FIP WHIP ERA+ bWAR fWAR
Pitcher Seasons w/ SEA IP W L K ERA FIP WHIP ERA+ bWAR fWAR
Randy Johnson 10 1,838.1 130 74 2,162 3.42 3.34 1.250 128 39.0 44.2
Jamie Moyer 11 2,093.0 145 87 1,239 3.97 4.38 1.254 112 34.2 29.9
Freddy Garcia 6 1,096.1 76 50 819 3.89 4.13 1.299 114 18.6 17.9

The Mariners have created a problem when it comes to evaluating pitchers’ for their Hall of Fame. By only accepting Randy Johnson and Jamie Moyer, both of whom were with the Mariners for at least ten years, every other pitcher’s numbers look lackluster by comparison. Obviously Félix Hernández will be a shoo-in. He was a Mariner for 15 seasons and was also fucking awesome. García was pretty awesome too, though.

Toronto Blue Jays vs. Seattle Mariners

He threw more innings than James Paxton and Hisashi Iwakuma, who are the only non-Félix pitchers of the 2010s with a prayer of making the Mariners Hall of Fame, and in turn has more WAR, strikeouts, and wins than them.

But when it comes time to stack his numbers up against Johnson and Moyer, some of the total figures look a little skinny. Still, an ERA under 3.90 and a WHIP under 1.30 get him a seat the big boy table, and it certainly helps that he outdid Moyer in ERA+ and FIP.

García’s Ranks in Mariner History

Stat Amount Rank in Mariner history
Stat Amount Rank in Mariner history
K 819 6th
ERA* 3.89 5th
FIP 4.13 11th
WHIP 1.299 10th
K%* 17.6% 8th
ERA+* 114 3rd
*among starting pitchers w/ at least 500 IP

This part is so weird. Some of the rate stats grade him less than favorably, but then he’s still fourth in ERA+. A couple of traditional stats have him pretty high up (fourth in career wins, sixth in career strikeouts), but then you realize how far behind the super Mariners he is (93 wins from the all-time leader, 1,705 strikeouts from the top).

At a respectable 18.6 bWAR, he nestles in at the fifth spot on the pitcher leaderboard. Pretty good! It’s just, Félix leads the pack at 50.3, then Randy at 39.0, followed by Moyer’s 34.2. In fact, by bWAR, Freddy is closer to his rotation mate Paul Abbott at the 24th spot than he is to Moyer at third.

While this isn’t Mariners-specific, he was also the all-time leader in wins by a Venezuelan pitcher when he retired. That record has since been broken by someone who is extremely Mariners-specific. Watching this video of them squaring off in 2012, it’s clear where the King learned that delivery.

Photo courtesy of MarinersPR

Beyond the Numbers

Freddy García really was hugely important to the Mariners’ organization. So much so, that when Venezuelan catcher Luis Torrens was traded to the Mariners, his father mentioned how proud he was that his son got to wear the same uniform as several Venezuelan legends, making sure to include Freddy.

On top of that, García not only made the Mariners look smart in the Johnson trade, but he also gave the fans a new star to watch every fifth day. When you consider the timing of his arrival, and how it coincided with Safeco Field being built, it’s frightening to imagine what could have happened if the team had fallen flat after trading Johnson.

A brand new stadium with no good players to run around in, coupled with the upcoming departures of Griffey and A-Rod, would have been an unspeakably bad look for the Mariners and assuredly lost them some fans.

García helped get the M’s to the playoffs in Safeco’s second year, playing a huge role on those 2000 and 2001 playoff squads that revitalized the fanbase while introducing them to a fresh crop of favorite players to root for. With a gnarly curveball and a steady, confident demeanor, Freddy García captained the Mariners pitching staff immediately after their mega star was gone. The fact that he was the direct replacement to the mega star and cashed in on that status with four seasons of 2.9 bWAR or better was the icing on this frosted cake.

Photo courtesy of Seattle Mariners/Pinterest

I also think it’s very neat that I watched Freddy García pitch a playoff game for the Mariners when I was in kindergarten and then 13 years later watched from my college dorm as he started a playoff game for the Braves.

Should He Be In?

If you’ve read my past articles on this topic, you’ve probably gathered by now that I’m in favor of a large Mariner Hall of Fame. For a franchise as historically bad as the Mariners, it’s pretty sanctimonious to limit the Hall of Fame to so few players. While I acknowledged that Pax and Kuma didn’t quite do enough to earn a spot, Freddy García has just enough longevity and performance-based merit to get himself a plaque.

With a player like García too, who for some reason has sort of fallen out of Mariners’ fans collective conscience, not putting him in the Hall of Fame means an increased chance that his Seattle career goes unremembered or even unknown for future generations. That would be a tremendous shame.

Put Freddy and his frosted tips in the Mariners Hall of Fame.