Carlos Carrasco Warms My Heart

It was a tough year for my fantasy teams and various preseason predictions. But there was at least one bright spot and it came in the form of Carlos Carrasco. I had been touting him since April of 2013 and I proved to be a year early. We have written a lot of Carrasco this season, and for good reason.

You may have forgotten that Carrasco opened the season in the Indians rotation. But after just four starts, he was banished to the bullpen, thanks to a 6.46 ERA. Predictably, his results improved dramatically in relief. Flash forward to August when a rotation spot suddenly opened. The Indians apparently hadn’t given up on Carrasco as a starter and decided to give him another shot. And as we know, he rewarded their faith, posting a minuscule 1.30 ERA over 10 starts, including a 78/11 K:BB ratio in 69.0 innings. He wasn’t even reliant on good fortune, as his 2.16 xFIP confirms that he was absolutely sensational.

So let’s first see if anything changed with his pitch selection between his first stint in the rotation, his time in relief and then his second stint in the rotation:

Carlos Carrasco 1st Starter

Fourseam Sinker Curve Slider Change
55.53 2.21 15.23 12.04 14.99

During his first four starts to open the season, didn’t really have much of a preference as to which offspeed pitch he would complement his four-seam fastball with. You would think that a full repertoire would have made it difficult for batters to figure out what was coming next. Instead, they were teeing up, as he allowed an inflated .355 BABIP.

Then he transitioned back into the bullpen and changed things up:

Carlos Carrasco Relief

Fourseam Sinker Curve Slider Change
57.44 2.37 9.81 21.99 8.39

He threw his fastball ever so slightly more often and then landed on a secondary pitch of choice. Oddly, he went with the slider, the pitch he threw the least of the three during his first four starts. He still threw the curve and changeup enough to be considered more than just a prototypical two-pitch reliever.

After returning to the rotation, his pitch mix looked like this:

Carlos Carrasco 2nd Starter

Fourseam Sinker Curve Slider Change
43.7 8.89 5.61 25.71 15.66

He swapped out some four-seam usage and featured his sinker a little more often. He then took his slider usage up another notch, returned his changeup usage to a similar rate as his first rotation stint, and mostly stopped throwing the curve.

And he certainly knew what he was doing because that slider was absolutely dominating. It generated a ridiculous 27.6% SwStk% and 57% grounders. So batters rarely put the bat on the ball, and when they did, it was just a harmless ground ball. Coming up through the minors, Carrasco was always known for his changeup, and that pitch was fantastic as well, inducing both swings and misses and grounders. His curve was excellent too, but not as deadly as the aforementioned two pitches. So his pitch selection during his second time in the rotation made sense.

But, he also did something else — improve his control markedly. He walked just 4.2% of batters faced during his second time around in the rotation versus 9.2% in his first go around. Below is a table comparing his ball percentage for each pitch during each segment of the season.

Pitch Type 1st Rotation Stint Bullpen 2nd Rotation Stint
Fourseam 38.50% 33.74% 34.14%
Sinker 33.33% 32.43% 30.95%
Change 37.70% 39.76% 29.73%
Slider 32.65% 25.54% 16.87%
Curve 43.55% 31.65% 30.19%

You’ll notice that he threw balls less frequently with every pitch as the season wore on. Is that sustainable? probably not. We can’t expect another walk rate that low. But the gobs of ground balls and the strikeouts are completely legit. He features a fastball with strong velocity and three above average to elite pitches. The strikeouts were due to arrive at some point.

Though prone to BABIP fluctuations as a ground ball pitcher with a poor defensive unit behind him and a low IFFB%, I see little reason to be anything but optimistic about his 2015 performance. The only concern I have is about his innings, since he threw just 134 this year. If he is only able to reach 170 innings tops, it’s going to cut into his overall value, as that will cap his wins and strikeout potential.

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.

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Good article and great call in April 2013!

minor quibble for correction maybe: the sentence where you say oddly he went with the slider which he threw the least of the three, it seems to ignore the sinker which he threw least of all…