On the surface, Brandon McCarthy wasn’t much of anything last season. His 10 wins, 175 strikeouts, 4.05 ERA, and 1.28 WHIP over 200 innings marked him as a fantasy replacement level pitcher. Which, in a sense, was fine. Nobody was spending money on him headed into the season. He performed exactly as expected, right? Not so much.
McCarthy’s 18 start stint with the Diamondbacks was painful in many ways. His 5.01 ERA hurt all the more because he pitched to a 3.82 FIP and 2.88 xFIP, which coaxed some fantasy owners (i.e. me) into continually using him. A .345 BABIP and 20 percent HR/FB ratio accounted for the different between actual ERA and the estimators.
Even with the bad real world results, the Yankees paid a useful player in Vidal Nuno to acquire half a season of McCarthy. In 14 starts, he was much better with a 2.89 ERA, 3.22 FIP, and 2.85 xFIP. Overall, his season was worth three WAR. It’s funny how a pitcher can be seen as above average in real life and replacement level in fantasy baseball (his RA9-WAR was 1.7).
The probable reason for success isn’t very hard to pinpoint. An offseason training regimen specifically designed to strengthen his back help him average 93 mph with his fastball. He retained fantastic command and control (1.49 BB/9) while adding strikeouts to his profile (7.88 K/9). Let’s turn to some charts in order to visualize the improvement.
The velocity spike was especially pronounced with his seldom used four-seamer. The pitch gained four mph over his career average and was especially effective last season. The sinker and cutter got him into trouble last year with high BABIP and home runs, but I think he’ll learn to better harness those pitches. The cutter may actually be a pitch to de-emphasize based on the results. He consistently allowed high batting and slugging percentages with the pitch. Perhaps more focus on his now-spicy four-seamer is in order.
Any story about McCarthy has to touch on injuries. Last season was the first time he reached 200 innings pitched. Actually, it was the first time he exceeded 170.2 innings. The injury history is mostly related to his shoulder. While I trust that his workout program has at least something to do with his newfound durability , it’s hard to have too much faith. He’s entering his age 31 season with just one full campaign. He has to be viewed among the highest risks to hit the disabled list.
Despite the risk, I plan to bet on health. His history combined with a 2014 ERA should help to keep him under the radar. Meanwhile, his excellent peripherals and increased velocity promise good things. Now all we need to do is learn where he’ll sign. A pitching friendly home stadium like San Francisco or St. Louis would be ideal for fantasy owners. Home runs plagued him last season, but he also pitched at two homer prone parks. I want to see what happens in the opposite environment.
While I won’t be breaking the bank to own McCarthy, he’s worth more than $1. Steamer calls for 10 wins, 120 strikeouts, a 3.72 ERA, and 1.20 WHIP. However, projection systems come up short when a player’s skill set changes. With the extra velocity, I’m predicting good things in McCarthy’s future. Perhaps something closer to 12 wins, 170 strikeouts, a 3.30 ERA, and 1.15 WHIP. That’s similar to Sonny Gray or James Shields, both of whom were worth $11 in 2014. That doesn’t mean you should budget $11 for McCarthy, but it certain justifies a $4 bid.
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