It might be odd to tout the virtues of a man who just allowed 7 earned runs in 3.2 innings during his 2013 debut against the Yankees on Tuesday. It is even stranger to gush about this very man given that he was just optioned to Triple-A. But if you hear me out, you will be convinced that this is a guy worth speculating on and stashing, especially in deep/AL-Only leagues and keepers.
Once upon a time, Carlos Carrasco was the top prospect in the Phillies organization. In fact, Baseball America ranked him first in the team’s farm system in 2007 and 41st overall. After the completion of the 2007 season, Carrasco remained atop the Phillies prospect list, even being identified as owning the organization’s best fastball and changeup. Everything finally came together for him at Triple-A in 2008, as he posted a 2.19 FIP with 46 strikeouts in 36.2 innings.
Then after posting a disappointing 5.19 ERA (4.01 FIP) in 2009, he was shipped to Cleveland at the trade deadline in a six-player deal for Cliff Lee. His solid skills soon returned, as he posted a 3.19 ERA/2.92 FIP, which earned him a call-up to make his MLB debut. That didn’t go so well, so he opened 2010 at Triple-A again, where he pitched solidly, yet was unspectacular. This time his cup of coffee with the Indians was actually pretty good, as he posted a 95 ERA-.
We then head on over to 2011, pitching the majority of the season in the Indians rotation, where he again flashed decent skills, but a slightly inflated HR/FB ratio and low LOB% pushed his ERA above 4.50. Then in September of this same season, Carrasco had to go under the knife and underwent Tommy John surgery, which knocked him out for all of 2012.
Finally, this brings us to his return to a Major League mound, Tuesday night in Cleveland. This tweet perfectly sums up the reason for this entire post, sent after the first couple of pitches Carrasco threw in the game:
Carlos Carrasco throwing 97 mph?! I’m excited!
— Mike Podhorzer (@MikePodhorzer) April 9, 2013
Of course, little did I know, this was the ultimate jinx. It was clear from watching the game that his command was off. He wasn’t unable to throw strikes, he just threw meatballs. Though I’m no expert in analyzing pitch location charts, it would seem the following two do validate that he was throwing too many pitches in the heart of the zone.
So control within the strike zone was just not happening for him. This is what likely contributed to his batted ball distribution for the night — he allowed five line drives for a 31% clip. Hitters were just teeing off on balls in the middle of the plate. Maybe Carrasco should be forgiven though. It’s always said that control/command is the last thing to return when a pitcher comes back from TJ surgery. And this was his first start since August of 2011! So he’ll go back down to Triple-A, hone his control, and hopefully be back in Cleveland some point later in the season.
But let’s step back and ignore the results for a moment. This is a pitcher who in his short career owns a 50% ground ball rate. So pretty strong worm burner? Check. His control has also been pretty good. Not great, mind you, but better than average. So he contributes positively in his avoidance in issuing the free pass as well. Now check this:
My eye brows were raised immediately as he pumped in 96 and 97 mph fastballs to open the game. I was pretty sure Carrasco didn’t normally throw that hard and had to confirm this was the case by checking his player page. We have had many cases where TJ returnees enjoyed an increase in velocity due to the long rehab that builds their muscles like never before. After an outing at the end of March, Carrasco was hitting 95 mph on the gun and Terry Francona had this to say:
“They said he was just blowing guys away,” manager Terry Francona said. “Most of the time when a guy goes to a back field, you’ll see a velocity dip a little bit. Nobody’s in the stands. His [velocity] spiked up. It’s interesting. We’re trying to get a handle on why that is. Maybe it’s like he gets in a comfort zone, he’s loose and he lets it fly. The good news is it’s there. Now, you want to see it more consistently.”
It seems pretty clear that his velocity has spiked as a result of the rehab from the surgery and therefore should be sustainable. Although the better fastball didn’t help induce more swings and misses (he had just a 6.1% SwStk%, though sample is obviously tiny), it should in the future and also make his changeup even more effective.
I have no idea when Carrasco might get called back up and return to the Indians rotation given their depth. But, it might make sense for deep leaguers, especially those with a large bench, to make a proactive move and pick him up now while he’s off everyone’s radar.
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.