One Step Forward, One Step Back for Cubs?

With the report from Bruce Levine that the Chicago Cubs have traded left-hander Tom Gorzelanny to the Washington Nationals in exchange for three (as of yet unnamed) prospects, the natural reaction would suggest that the Cubs are dealing from depth after the acquisition of Matt Garza.

However, it would be a mistake to overlook this trade from the Cubs perspective. While, at face value, Gorzelanny’s 2010 contributions were modest -- 7-9, 4.09 ERA in 136 ⅓ IP -- he was actually quite an important cog for the team. Gorzelanny ranked fourth among starting pitchers on the team in Wins Above Replacement, just slightly behind nominal staff ace Carlos Zambrano.

But perhaps the more pressing issue is whether the recently acquired Garza is even an upgrade on Gorzelanny. That question might seem ridiculous at first glance -- the Cubs gave up a rich package of prospects to acquire Garza while trading Gorzelanny for a much lesser return -- but the numbers seem to suggest otherwise.

Tom Gorzelanny vs Matt Garza
2010 Season

As the chart shows, despite throwing roughly 70 fewer innings, Gorzelanny was actually more valuable in 2010 than Garza. Gorzelanny recorded a higher strikeout rate, had stronger peripheral numbers overall and, when looking at Fielding Independent Pitching, actually pitched better in the areas that were under his control.

The argument that Garza is young and will be under team control for several seasons beyond 2011 is also muted when one considers that Garza is less than a year and a half younger than Gorzelanny.

In fact, Garza is nominally younger but also set for a much larger payday in 2011 and beyond -- Garza made $3.35M in 2010 while Gorzelanny made just $800K. Both those numbers will go up in 2011, but obviously Garza’s will increase much more substantially.

The set of deals becomes more puzzling when a look at the Cubs rotation reveals it now consists of five right-handed starters: Zambrano, Garza, Randy Wells, Ryan Dempster and Carlos Silva. Gorzelanny might have been a back-end member of the rotation, but he provided some semblance of balance. That, along with the affordability of his contract, is gone.

All in all, Garza is likely a preferable option to Gorzelanny -- he has a much stronger track record, has proven to be more durable and will have the benefit of pitching in the National League in 2011 rather than the American League East -- but the public perception of the difference of the two pitchers is not reflected in what happened on the field in 2010. 2011 is no guarantee, either.