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Angels trade reliever Jose Alvarez to Phillies for right-hander Luis Garcia

Angels trade reliever Jose Alvarez to Phillies for right-hander Luis Garcia
Luis Garcia has a 4.12 ERA and 223 strikeouts in 251 games since debuting with the Phillies in 2013. (Matt Slocum / Associated Press)

The Angels on Thursday traded Jose Alvarez, one of their most effective relief pitchers of the 2018 season, to the Philadelphia Phillies for right-hander Luis Garcia.

Garcia, who will be 32 next season, had a 6.07 earned-run average in 59 games last season. He allowed four home runs, hit four batters and threw seven wild pitches. But his peripheral statistics offer some encouragement: Garcia struck out a career-high 10 batters per nine innings, allowed 18 walks in 46 innings and amassed a 3.51 in fielding independent pitching, or FIP. While at it, he flashed a fastball that averaged 97 mph and threw a mid-80s slider that generated about 51% whiffs per swing, a rate that ranked 15th among major league relievers, according to Baseball Prospectus’ PITCHf/x leaderboards.

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Over the last two seasons, Garcia ranked sixth in the National League with a rate of 0.54 home runs allowed per nine innings.

“With Luis, there’s components to him that lead us to believe the ERA was not indicative of his true talent level,” Angels general manager Billy Eppler said. “He keeps the ball on the ground. He can miss bats. Those are both very important things and things that we look for in our pitchers. He does both of those things that we value — and he gives us another power look out of the bullpen. It complements (Justin) Anderson, (Ty) Buttery and (Hansel) Robles. With (Keynan) Middleton hopefully arriving in 2019, that could be five relievers in our bullpen that are all bumping 100 mph with that bat-missing ability.”

Garcia has a 4.12 ERA and 223 strikeouts in 251 games since debuting with the Phillies in 2013. He has not been as consistent throughout his career as Alvarez, who posted a career-best 2.71 ERA last season and has a 3.69 ERA in 284 career games.

But Garcia is not far removed from his best season with the Phillies: In 2017, he had a 2.65 ERA, 60 strikeouts, 26 walks and 7.7 hits per nine innings in 66 games.

Underscoring Garcia’s struggles in 2018 was a 6% increase in line drives allowed; he had a line-drive rate of 18% in 2017.

“Poor luck would be one of the areas that we would attribute his 2018 season to,” Eppler said. “We want to continue to improve his strike zone ability. We think with those two things — regression to mean, improved strike zone ability — we can hopefully get him a lot closer to the pitcher he was in 2017.”

On the surface, the addition of Garcia removes the Angels’ only experienced left-handed reliever. But it also provides another hard thrower the Angels can deploy late in games. As the roster stands now, the Angels count Garcia, Robles, Buttrey, Anderson and Jake Jewell — who had season-ending leg surgery to repair a fractured right fibula in June — among relievers who throw a fastball that averages about 96 mph. Middleton, one of several Angels pitchers to undergo elbow ligament replacement surgery last season, would join the group upon his return to the major leagues.

Although he only threw it about 12% of the time, the Angels are also encouraged by the development of Garcia’s split finger. Batters only hit the pitch at a .118 clip last year, according to MLB.com’s Statcast system.

Garcia and Alvarez, neither of whom has a minor-league option remaining on his contract, are each projected to make $1.7 million in salary arbitration, according to projections from MLB Trade Rumors. Depending on how the process shakes out, the trade likely won’t free up extra cash for the Angels to spend on other acquisitions. However, the Angels will continue to seek pitching depth, especially in the starting rotation, as baseball’s winter meetings get set to begin Monday in Las Vegas.

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