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Get Off the Armando Galarraga Bandwagon

I've read a lot of Tweets and blog posts recently about how Armando Galarraga is an underrated option for fantasy teams.  Simply put, he's not.  And because so many people feel he's an ace, my advice is that you probably want to trade him to those suckers immediately.  To make my point, here's an imaginary debate between me and Fantasy Smart Guy, where I give him the saber what for, using a lot of Fangraphs data.

Fantasy Smart Guy: Armando Galarraga rules!  Since I'm an expert and I don't think enough people have heard of the guy, I'm going to pimp him hardcore.  A young starter with a 3.73 ERA during his rookie season is awe -- wait for it -- some!

Sky: I'll spare you the ERA jokes, but only if you take a look at his .247 BABIP last year.  He gave up a much larger percentage of batted balls that were turned into outs than you'd expect based on any pitcher's skill.  While a 2.1 K/BB ratio is nice, it's not all that great.  The 3.73 ERA was a fluke and shouldn't be expected to happen again soon.

Fantasy Smart Guy: How about you stop cherry-picking stats and look at Galarraga's 2008 homerun rate?  He gave up 1.4 per nine innings.  That can't be sustainable, either, can it?

Sky: Well, Galarraga is a fly ball pitcher, giving up 40% of his batted balls in the air last year.  The fact that 13% of them went for home runs does seem a bit high and might regress a bit towards 11% going forward.  But even if you regress the home run rate, regressing the BABIP makes a bigger difference.  From, Galarraga's 2008 tERA* was 4.40, which is our best guess at what his true talent was.  His 2008 FIP was even higher at 4.88, but I'm ok if you ignore that in favor of the tRA data.

Fantasy Smart Guy: Well, whatever, maybe he was a bit overrated last year, but look at 2009!  His BABIP is up into the no-luck range at .287 and he's striking out 8.9 hitters per game!  I'll admit that his 1.85 ERA is too low, but his FIP is a still-awesome 3.37.  He's an ace!

Sky: If you don't use fewer exclamation points I'm going to change your name to Sparkly Ponies Guy.  Yes, the strikeout rate is really nice, but the walk rate has also gone up, from 3.1 to 4.1 per game.  And, while Galarraga was a bit unlucky with home runs on fly balls last year, he's been quite lucky with them this year, with only 5% leaving the park.  Nobody's that good.

Sparkly Ponies Guy: Ok, then, smart guy, if Galarraga isn't this good, how good is he?

Sky: I thought you were the smart guy?  Anyway, let's go back to the tRA data.  Galarraga's 2009 tERA* is 4.75.  What does that mean?  Well, in addition to last year's 4.40 tERA*, he appears to be about a 4.50 ERA pitcher given a neutral defense, neutral park, neutral league and neutral luck.  Of course, anything's possible, and the improved strikeout rate this year is a good sign, along with a slightly higher ground ball rate.

Overall, I'd call Galarraga a league average pitcher who's benefited from some fortunate circumstances.  Let's see how it plays out.  But, Mr. Fantasy Smart Guy, you should probably think about cashing in on his early success, selling high.