Real baseball teams need innings eaters to get them into the sixth and seventh innings. Those pitchers don't need to be Johan Santana, just durable, somewhat reliable and capable of keeping their ERA below 5. On good teams with offense and a strong bullpen, a pitcher like this can win double-digit games every season and command some nice major league dollars even if fantasy owners are scared off.
Oh, did we mention Jon Garland just found work again?
The Arizona Diamondbacks have signed Garland to a one-year deal, which seems like a rather harmless move with little downside for them. Garland comes off a 14-win season very much in line with what he's accomplished this decade. Over the past seven seasons, six with the White Sox and one with the Angels, Garland has made at least 32 starts, always winning in double digits, and going for a career-high 18 in both 2005 and 2006. However, Garland had just one season during that stretch (2005) where he kept his season ERA on the good side of 4, and his WHIP below 1.32. That is why fantasy owners seem to always be cold on adding him. The fact Garland's career best in strikeouts is 115 is another reason. But hey, in real baseball, there is value in consistency, and few have fit that term -- even in an average way -- more than Garland.
Making his maiden voyage to the National League should help Garland a bit, as facing pitchers like Dave Bush a few times per game is much more enticing than designated hitters like David Ortiz, but he remains one of the more hittable pitchers in the game, and that won't change. Since the beginning of 2002, only three pitchers have allowed more hits than Garland. While this speaks to valued durability, it also states the obvious: This guy gives up a lot of hits! The other three, by the way, are Livan Hernandez, Mark Buehrle and Greg Maddux (one of whom is retired, and another who can't find work). Also, it's prudent to mention that Arizona's Chase Field ranked second for runs scored in the majors this past season and third in hits allowed, so Garland's potential advantage for switching leagues does get muted a bit.
I question why the Diamondbacks felt the need to sign Garland in the first place, even though the deal seems wise. Sure, he technically replaces Randy Johnson's innings in the No. 5 spot, but that means the younger, promising Yusmeiro Petit loses his opportunity. Petit had a 4.35 ERA in eight starts in 2008, but allowed only 32 hits and 12 walks in those 41 1/3 innings. He would have been one of my sleepers for 2009. The other, more pessimistic take on the reason for Garland's signing is that fireballer Max Scherzer either isn't ready to make 30 starts, or the stiff pitching shoulder he reported to the team in December continues to be an issue. It's premature to be scared of drafting Scherzer, though.
Garland is going to give up plenty of hits and runs, but the potential for 14 or more wins will make him enticing as a late-game draft pick, your sixth or seventh starting pitcher. Just be careful if his 2008 second-half trend -- his ERA rose every month from May on -- continues. Garland could be closer to Adam Eaton territory than anyone believes, and as we know, that just cannot help fantasy owners.
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy baseball, football and basketball. He has twice been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. His new book, "The Best Philadelphia Sports Arguments," was published by Source Books and is available in bookstores. Contact Eric by e-mailing him here.