The career transformation of Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy has already been well documented. Concerned about his future in the majors, McCarthy opted to alter his pitch selection, which led to two fantastic seasons in Oakland. Just a few years removed from that, it’s starting to look like McCarthy has reinvented himself again.
Two things stand out about McCarthy’s new approach. His strikeout rate has exploded. After averaging a 16% strikeout rate over his career, McCarthy is up to 21.3% in 2014. While that figure is boosted by a 12 strikeout performance against the Phillies, McCarthy’s whiff rates on all of his pitches have shot up this season. Aside from strikeout rate, the second thing that jumps out is McCarthy’s increased ground ball rate. McCarthy turned himself into a ground ball pitcher in Oakland, but he’s taken things to the extreme now. On the season, McCarthy’s ground ball rates sits at a career-high 54.7%.
The added strikeouts are more appealing for fantasy leagues, and there’s some reason to believe the gains can stay. McCarthy’s velocity has taken a major step forward to begin the year. Last April, McCarthy’s sinker averaged 92.64 mph. This year, it’s jumped to 94.03 mph. That’s a significant jump, and it’s likely a result of McCarthy’s new offseason workout regimen. The purpose of the regimen was to keep McCarthy stronger throughout the season. While it remains to be seen whether that will be successful, the short-term gains have certainly been beneficial to his game.
Though not as appealing to fantasy owners, the increased ground ball rate has played a big role in McCarthy’s new approach. McCarthy has been a sinker-heavy pitcher in the past, but he’s gone even further this year. The sinker is being used 57.56% of the time in 2014. He used the pitch 44.26% of the time last year. He’s also made some changes to his repertoire. McCarthy hasn’t thrown a single changeup this season, according to BrooksBaseball.net. It was his worst pitch last season according to pitch values. McCarthy told Eno Sarris that he still believes he can figure out “a way to unlock” the pitch, but it doesn’t appear to be a focus this year.
The results of the new approach haven’t manifested in his numbers just yet. While McCarthy’s 4.67 ERA, and 4.04 FIP, maybe aren’t what fantasy owners are looking for, his 2.92 xFIP could hint at a nice improvement. It’s tough to really utilize xFIP after just 44 1/3 innings, but it does give reason to believe McCarthy’s number will come down. McCarthy’s already given up seven home runs, three of which came during a rough start in Colorado. Those struggles with the long ball have caused his HR/FB rate to skyrocket to 21.9% this year. That’s not sustainable.
The fact that his numbers are less than stellar at the moment makes McCarthy a tremendous buy low candidate. McCarthy has typically been stingy with walks, so any increase in strikeout rate gives him a huge bump in value. He’s had some problems staying healthy in the past, but he’s worked to address those issues during the offseason. While it’s unclear whether he’ll make it through an entire year unscathed, it looks like he can provide plenty of value as long as he can stay on the field.
Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.