If there was just one thing to be thankful for last year in baseball, it was Carlos Carrasco. I had written a lot about him heading into the season and his performance upon returning to the rotation prompted more articles salivating over the quality of his stuff. So he was a rather obvious candidate to earn the honor of my first starting pitcher receiving the Pod Projection treatment.
For those who forget (how dare you!), Carrasco posted the following line over his final 10 starts of the season:
Despite those sizzling results coming over a relatively small sample size, fantasy owners are going gaga over Carrasco. He is currently the 115th player off the board in the NFBC and is the 28th starter selected, ahead of more established veterans like Gio Gonzalez and Hyun-Jin Ryu. And no, I haven’t stuffed the ballots by joining every single NFBC league and drafting Carrasco.
Carrasco only threw 134.0 innings last year and 118.1 in 2013 after returning from Tommy John surgery. A projection of 180 innings is likely his ceiling this year, so if anything, this might be slightly too optimistic. It’s an important number though, because his innings total will cap his fantasy value.
Carrasco’s xK% last season was 26%, just below his actual mark of 26.5%. Of course, that full season strikeout rate also included 26 appearances out of the bullpen. Usually, that would prop up a pitcher’s strikeout rate, but Carrasco may or may not be human. His strikeout rate while pitching in relief was only 23.1%, and therefore significantly higher in the rotation. That’s likely the result of an increased usage of his slider, which was absolutely dominating, generating a 27.6% SwStk%.
So why then am I projecting such a decline in strikeout rate when last year’s mark appears legit? It’s simply a matter of assumed regression for a pitcher who had never shown such ability previously and the small sample size the performance occurred over. Even in the minors he was rarely anywhere near this good. But do note that although I am forecasting a drop in strikeout rate, it is still well above his career Major League mark of 19.2%.
Carrasco actually posted an xBB% of just 4.4%, and his actual walk rate was better than the control he has displayed at any level previously (aside from his 2009 stint with the Indians at Triple-A). He has thrown a high rate of strikes, which should ensure that he posts a better than league average walk rate. But again, the prudent move is to expect some regression.
GB%/LD%/FB%: 51% / 19.5% / 29.5%
This is essentially his career average and his batted ball profile has remained rather stable throughout. All of his pitches, with the exception of his four-seamer, have generated ground ball rates of at least 50%. Combining strikeout ability with a penchant for grounders is the ultimate skill. It’s one of the reasons why Felix Hernandez is so darn good.
I will rarely project a starting pitcher with limited Major League experience to post anything but a 10% mark, which is around league average for starters over the last couple of years. Carrasco sports a career 11.2% HR/FB rate, but that’s inflated by exaggerated marks in 2009 and 2010. Progressive Field is almost perfectly neutral in its home run allowing ways, so there’s no park effect here.
Carrasco posted a .274 mark last season on a team whose pitchers allowed a combined .309 BABIP. With a high ground ball rate and weak ability to induce pop-ups, there is no reason to think that Carrasco has any sort of BABIP-suppressing skills. So given his ground ball profile and what should be another poor (albeit improved) defensive unit behind him, the projection calls for a mark worse than the league average.
Below is my final projected pitching line, along with the other systems for comparison:
As usual, by ERA, my projection is in between the seemingly conservative Steamer and the optimistic Fans. Oddly, ZiPS is projecting only 16 starts for Carrasco, along with 19 relief appearances. I guess with no manual intervention, the computer is simply looking at his prior usage without knowing he is locked into a rotation spot. Perhaps more strangely though is that even with those bullpen innings, ZiPS projects the highest ERA and WHIP and lowest strikeout rate.
But overall, the computer systems and myself are all remarkably close on strikeout and walk rate, along with BABIP and HR/9 (not shown). The difference in ERA projections likely stem from the slightly lower strikeout rate from ZiPS and the worse LOB% from Steamer, something probably hurting Carrasco’s ZiPS ERA as well, though it’s not calculated, so I cannot be sure. I don’t actually project LOB%, but rather it’s an implied rate calculated from the projected baserunners and runs allowed.
Based on my projection, I think he’s being fairly valued, if not a bit undervalued. His value is hurt by his innings projection, so in a shallow league or especially a league with daily transactions and an innings cap, he becomes much more attractive.
Carrasco always had the stuff and he finally figured out how to translate that stuff into effective pitching. He’s for real.
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.