Remember him? If not, it may be because he has been on the DL more days than he has been off it (note: this may or may not be true) since his Major League Debut in 2005. In fact, if you thought Rich Harden was injury prone, Brandon McCarthy actually has him beat. According to the Baseball Injury Tool, McCarthy has dealt with injury issues on 14 different occasions since 2006, while Harden only suffered through 13 during that same time span. So now that we have established just how much McCarthy’s career has been ruined by injuries so far, let me discuss why he makes for a great gamble for your lonely dollar in an AL-Only auction.
Back in 2005, McCarthy was a top prospect in the White Sox system and posted relatively solid results (4.03 ERA, 4.19 xFIP over 67.0 innings) for a rookie pitcher in the American League. His fly ball tendency was a concern, but he displayed strong control and an acceptable strikeout rate. Then the forearm, shoulder and elbow injuries began to pile up, and McCarthy was limited to just 305.2 Major League innings over the following five seasons. Not surprisingly, the results following his rookie season (4.68 ERA, 5.11 xFIP) were indicative of a pitcher who was likely rarely at full health when taking the ball every fifth day.
So what do the projections say is in store for McCarthy in 2011?
RotoChamp: 106 IP, 4.99 ERA, 5.8 K/9, 3.5 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9
Bill James: 143 IP, 3.65 ERA, 6.7 K/9, 3.0 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9
Marcel: 70 IP, 4.05 ERA, 6.4 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9
Fans: 101 IP, 4.38 ERA, 6.0 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9
My Forecast: 130 IP, 4.20 ERA, 6.3 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9
These projections are all over the place, but the strictly computer generated forecasts (the first three) should probably be completely disregarded. Before I explain why, I would also like to bring your attention to the fact that my HR/9 projection is the lowest among forecasts. So why should you ignore the first three projections and why the sub-1.0 HR/9 prediction? Because Brandon McCarthy has scrapped his four-seam fastball in favor of a sinker. And not just a sinker, but the magical cutter too!
All else equal, ground balls are good for a pitcher and fly balls are bad. Earlier in the article, I mentioned that one of McCarthy’s early concerns as a rookie was his fly ball rate. The switch from throwing a four-seamer to a sinker should finally rectify the problem and significantly impact his ground ball rate, allowing him to easily post a career high mark. Unfortunately, the computer generated projections have no clue McCarthy has made these changes to his pitch repertoire.
Though I typically put little credence into spring training results, this is a situation where I think making an exception is warranted. Though admittedly a small sample (all of spring training is), McCarthy has posted an 18/11 GB/FB ratio over 13.2 innings. Assuming a league average 19% line drive rate, that equates to about a 50% ground ball rate, dramatically higher than his previous best of 39%. As a result, my projection calls for a 49% ground ball rate, which led to the lower HR/9 ratio. If McCarthy could really generate some strong downward movement on his new pitch, there is additional ground ball rate upside here, as the top sinker ball pitchers can post rates in the mid-60% range. A 60% ground ball rate would push my ERA forecast down to 3.69.
The new pitch and the small sample spring stats lead me to believe that McCarthy could post the best skill set of his career. But what about his health? Well that seems to be taken care of as well. He claims to be healthy, and so far no issues have cropped up yet this spring. Throw in a strong Oakland defense behind him and his first chance to call a pitcher’s park home after pitching in Chicago and Texas previously, and you have yourself a great risk/reward option for your AL-Only fantasy staff.
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.