It’s no secret that I loved Carlos Carrasco heading into the 2014 season. His spectacular performance over his final 10 starts last year vaulted him into the not actually a sleeper sleeper territory during this year’s draft season. By this I mean that he was hyped as a sleeper by just about everyone, but that meant that everyone who paid attention knew how awesome and legit he was and bid him up to or drafted him at fair value. But his first eight starts of this year have not gone the way we all expected. His ERA sits at a disappointing 4.98 and he has averaged just about 5.4 innings per start.
So with that background out of the way, let’s play a game. You like games, right? You might be familiar with this one. It’s that super fun mystery Player A and Player B showdown. So let’s get to it:
These two pitchers possess very similar statistical profiles. Pitcher B has struck out a slighter higher rate of batters than Pitcher A, but offsets that increased dominance somewhat with a lower ground ball rate. He has also posted a higher strikeout rate despite a marginally slower average fastball and slightly lower SwStk%. Interestingly, Pitcher B has thrown first pitch strikes significantly more often than Pitcher A, but has posted an identical walk rate.
Now let’s add one more piece of information to the table, ERA:
WOAH. Despite a vastly similar statistical profile, Pitcher A has managed to turn those underlying skills into a 2.55 ERA, while Pitcher B has struggled to the tune of a near-5.00 mark. By now, you have probably guessed what’s going on here. And the title of this article certainly helped you figure it out as well. Both pitchers are Carrasco, with A being his 2014 season and B his 2015 performance so far.
Let’s look at a third table that should help shed some light into the huge ERA discrepancy:
There we go! It’s that evil combination of an inflated BABIP and suppressed LOB% wreaking havoc on Carrasco’s ERA. He wasn’t going to sustain a 7.1% HR/FB rate and although his current mark represents a meaningful jump, it’s barely above the American League starting pitcher league average of 10.5%. So there’s no reason to expect that to decline substantially, if at all.
But, what about that BABIP and LOB%? Well, obviously they are related. A high BABIP is the result of more hits falling in, which is going to score more base runners, making it difficult to strand them, thus pushing down the LOB% mark. Some of the high BABIP is Carrasco’s fault — his line drive rate is above the 21.1% league average and his IFFB% is just 2.9%, a microscopic number, especially compared to the 10.2% league average. In fact, he has induced one whole pop up all season! I can guarantee you that if he faced Joey Votto, a pop up would not be the ultimate outcome of the matchup.
By not inducing balls that get converted into outs at by far the highest rate and allowing the balls that go for hits at the highest rate at above league average clips (liners and grounders), his batted ball distribution suggests a worse than league average BABIP. Then there’s the additional bad news — the Indians stink at defense. The team ranks 11th in the American League in UZR/150 and 14th in Def. So a poor batted ball distribution in terms of allowing hits on balls in play plus bad defensive support is going to lend itself to an inflated BABIP.
The good news is that full-season line drive rate allowed is rather flaky. Therefore, you could bet that after just eight starts, it means little. So I wouldn’t panic over a slightly higher mark than we’d like to see at this point. Furthermore, the Indians have had to trot out some horrid defenders, like Mike Aviles anywhere on the infield, and Jerry Sands and David Murphy anywhere in the outfield. Unless major injuries strike, these mistakes shouldn’t happen again, meaning the Indians defense should be a bit better. That won’t cure his inability to induce pop ups though, something he has always had trouble with. This is why it would have been foolish to expect a repeat of last year’s .274 BABIP.
When diving into his low LOB%, the obvious cause is the high BABIP. But what if that wasn’t it? Delving deeper into his splits, we find out that he losses little from a skills perspective with men on base. His xFIP with the bases empty sits at 2.38, while with men on, it rises to a still impressive 3.06. The problem stems from a .396 BABIP with men on base, which is the root of his troubles. His LD% and HR/FB rates have both jumped in those situations. But last season, he had no such issues and actually posted a better set of underlying skills with men on base. So it’s hard to believe that he lost the ability to pitch with runners on base overnight.
The bottom line is this — Carrasco currently throws three pitches with SwStk% marks of at least 17%. THREE! And his fastball has been darn good as well. I cannot guarantee that the Indians defense won’t make his fantasy owners cry and reach for a tissue every now and then. But I can say that this kind of ERA/SIERA disconnect won’t last much longer and these skills are far too elite to be attached to an ERA nearing 5.00, let alone 4.00. Go get him.
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.