Though my love for Carlos Carrasco is no longer a secret, I feel like I haven’t shared my optimism as much as I did for my favorite sleeper from last season, Andrew Cashner. However, I did first recommend him in deep leagues last summer (he failed to deliver, oops), discussed a bit of his intrigue when delving into the Indians rotation depth chart this year and then boldly predicted that he would outearn names like Danny Salazar, Justin Masterson and Corey Kluber to finish as the most valuable Indians starter. Now that he has officially won the fifth starter job in Cleveland, there is cause for celebration.
After completing the Tout Wars AL auction a week ago, we all headed out for a late lunch. I sat next to Joe Sheehan when Carrasco’s name must have come up. He looked at me and asked “what do you know that we don’t?” The truth is, I obviously don’t know anything, but I simply imagine what could be. And that could is very exciting.
Back in 2007, Carrasco was ranked as the top prospect in the Phillies organization by Baseball America and the 41th-best in baseball. Unfortunately, his surface results didn’t exactly scream future star, as he posted ERAs at the majority of his minor league stops through 2009. Then at the end of the 2011 season, Carrasco went under the knife, undergoing Tommy John surgery.
He finally returned in 2013 and posted the best strikeout rate of his minor league career. Now granted, this was his fifth time pitching at the Triple-A level, but this was different. Like so many others enjoyed after returning from the surgery due to the intensive rehab, Carrasco’s fastball velocity surged. Previously, he had averaged between 92 and 93 mph, but last year he averaged nearly 95 mph, peaking at 98 mph, a full mile and a half per hour faster than he was recorded at before in the Majors. Although the pitch curiously didn’t induce more swings and misses during his time with the Indians last year, all else being equal, a faster fastball is preferable to a slower one, with the caveat that the pitcher in question can command the harder fastball just as well.
The better fastball could also make Carrasco’s changeup more effective. Last year, he induced a 20.7% SwStk% on the pitch . While that wasn’t quite high enough to rank in the top 10, it isn’t too far off. It’s an excellent pitch, even generating grounders over 70% of the time. Usually pitchers have a choice with their changeup – get hitters to swing on top of the ball and hit a weak grounder or make the hitter swing and miss. To be able to do both like Carrasco can is rare.
In addition, although Carrasco doesn’t throw it all that often, his slider has been absolutely fantastic at inducing whiffs, even more so than his nasty changeup. He posted a SwStk% of 27.9% with the pitch last year, which would have ranked first in baseball had he qualified for Eno’s list. Over his short career, that pitch has averaged a SwStk% of 23.3%. Not quite as incredible, but still one of the best.
So we’re talking two plus (plus-plus?) pitches and a fastball that averages 95 mph. What else do you want? Oh, he also sports a career ground ball rate of 50%? You don’t say! And his control, while not Cliff Lee caliber, is pretty good. In terms of underlying abilities, he seemingly possesses the complete package.
Now it’s just a matter of turning those skills into results. The raw stuff is there, so now it’s up to Carrasco to shed the head case label and prove that us stat nerds aren’t silly for ignoring such psychological factors.
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.