Is Carlos Carrasco an Ace Now or Does He Still Suck?
27 year old Cleveland Indians pitcher Carlos Carrasco has a lengthy history of mediocrity, but after an awful start to the season he broke out in a big way in 2014. So how does a guy who started only 14 games end the season ranked as the 22nd best starting pitcher in 5×5 roto leagues? He ended the season with a 2.55 ERA and 0.99 WHIP. He struck out a very impressive 140 batters in 134 innings while walking only 29.
Carrasco began the season in the Indians’ rotation, but was swiftly sent to the bullpen after getting drilled in each of his 4 starts. Once in the bullpen he suddenly became a totally different pitcher. He was lights out for the rest of the season. After switching to the bullpen he began throwing solely from the stretch, even with the bases empty. He threw his fastball less and tripled his usage of his excellent slider and also increased the frequency of his nearly unhittable split-fingered changeup, which looks just like his fastball as he releases it but at the last moment dives down and to the right. Speaking of the fastball, Carrasco wields a true blazing fastball. His heater averaged 96.4 mph this season, which was the 6th fastest in baseball. His fastball is 3 mph faster now than it was prior to his 2012 Tommy John Surgery. Despite the great velocity Carrasco hasn’t gotten consistent results with the fastball. His out pitches are the slider and the changeup, both of which induce stellar whiff percentages.
He was so good in the bullpen that the Indians moved him back in to the rotation on August 10th. He continued pitching in the same manner as he did from the bullpen and the results were elite. In 10 late-season starts he went 5-3 with a 1.30 ERA, 0.81 WHIP and 78 Ks with only 11 BBs in 69 innings. Wow.
10 games is of course a small sample size. You don’t have to be a great pitcher to put up great stats in a small sample. Even bad pitchers sometimes yield good results for a month or two. So how can we tell if Carrasco has truly turned a corner and become a good pitcher or if he is just a dud on a hot streak? After all, he has been a well below average pitcher for several years now. Let’s take a look at his career stats from 2009 through his first 4 games of 2014 and compare those to his stats from April 30th to the end of the season.
|.||Sept 2009 – April 2014||May 2014 – Sept 2014|
Carrasco threw 112 innings after being demoted to the bullpen, including the 69 innings in his 10 starts in August and September. That 112 innings is almost half as many as he had thrown in his 5 year career prior to this season. The changes in his stat line are amazing. He went from losing 2/3 of his games to winning 2/3 of his games. His ERA before the switch was 3x higher than it was after! His WHIP before the switch was an absolutely pathetic 1.52 but fell by almost half down to an elite 0.88 after the switch. He saw his strikeout rate balloon by 3 Ks per game while his walk rate halved itself. His K%-BB% nearly tripled! Considering how good those peripheral stats were it is no wonder that his xFIP and SIERA were so damn good too. Both his xFIP and SIERA would have been the 2nd best marks in the major leagues behind only Clayton Kershaw if he had thrown enough innings to qualify for the leaderboard! That is extremely impressive.
Stats like those over a good sized 112 inning sample are a very strong indicator that Carlos Carrasco didn’t just get lucky. He made some key adjustments to his mechanics that resulted in more velocity, more movement and better conrol. He also changed his mix of pitches to throw his most effective pitches more often. The end result was a different Carlos Carrasco. He is not the same pitcher he was prior to this season. There is every reason to believe that these changes are here to stay. I don’t think he will go back to his old ways. There is a very good chance that Carrasco will be a highly effective pitcher again next season.
So what is the Verdict?
Looking forward to 2015 I would expect Carrasco to remain in the Indians’ starting rotation and deliver a solid season. He won’t put up another 1.69 ERA but I don’t think a sub-3.00 ERA is out of the question. His xFIP and SIERA predict an ERA in the 2.40 range. I would be a bit more conservative and budget for something in the 2.80 to 3.20 range with a WHIP of 1.15 or maybe a bit higher. Carrasco will strike out a lot of batters for his fantasy owners with 200 Ks a realistic possibility if he stays healthy for the full season. Durability could be a concern for several reasons. Carrasco has already had one TJ surgery. The 134 innings he tossed this season were a career high, although he did hurl 195 innings between the majors and minors in 2010. Carrasco’s heavy usage of breaking pitches is also a warning sign of injury. Factor in the wear and tear on his arm of throwing 97 mph several hundred times per year too. The moral of the story is that Carrasco is likely to pitch very well but there is a good chance he will spend time on the disabled list. If you have him on your fantasy roster he should provide great value considering you likely obtained him for little or nothing. If you don’t have him yet I would definitely be feeling out his current owner to see if you can swing a deal at a reasonable price.
What are your thoughts regarding Carlos Carrasco? Are you a believer or a naysayer? Let me know in the comments below.
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