Carlos Carrasco is coming to your home. Run!
2010 was a pretty good year for Carrasco. After seemingly putting it together in AAA, Carrasco had a successful 7 start run at the end of the season for Cleveland, essentially cementing his importance for the 2011 big league rotation. Carrasco, like much of the Clippers starting rotation, got off to a rough start, but saw steady progress throughout the minor league season. From May to August, his ERA by month in Columbus was 5.33, 4.03, 3.20 and 2.43. He followed that up with a nice 3.83 ERA in Cleveland (4.13 FIP if you would prefer, or 3.55 xFIP).
Carrasco utilizes a complete four-pitch mix of fastball (which he can vary), change, curve and splitter/slider. Based on fangraphs data, all four of his pitches were effective outside of his fastball (which showed considerable improvement from 2009). We have only limited major league data on Carrasco, so all relevant small sample size warnings are in play, but the overall results were very encouraging.
Among the starters, only Josh Tomlin (!) did a better job of getting batters to swing at pitches outside the zone (30.5% and 33.1%, respectively). Carrasco, at 8.7%, had the best swing and miss rate among the starters. This, by itself, is a very encouraging sign about Carlos and the stuff he brings to the mound.
A big part, perhaps the only interesting part of dissecting Carrasco, are his homerun tendencies. His advancement to the big leagues in 2010 followed a successful HR turn-around in Columbus. After giving up 15 in his first ten appearances for the Clippers, Carrasco gave up just one longball in his final ten starts leading up to his promotion. At Cleveland, however, he gave up 6 in a relatively short time. But those 6 did remarkably little to hurt his overall numbers. All came with the bases empty. All of them except for a 6th inning HR in a tie game to (noted Indian killer) Torii Hunter on September 6th came in low leverage situations.
What follows is a close examination of the HRs Carrasco gave up in 2010.
Carrasco's first HR in Cleveland came in his opening inning, on September 1st, with 2 outs against Alex Rios. He retired Juan Pierre on three straight fastballs (93-94), ending in a groundout to start the inning. He pounded the bottom of the strike zone with fastballs and got Omar Vizquel into a 2-2 count before getting the strikeout on a foul tip changeup (88, pitch classification courtesy of MLB Gameday - recorded as his fastest changeup of the season). So with two outs, no one on base, top of the 1st, Carrasco faced off against Rios. After a fastball strike on the bottom of the zone, Carrasco came inside to Rios on a fastball that was promptly blasted into the left-center bleachers. It wasn't a bad pitch, just a bad location to a guy like Rios. Carrasco then cruised through the next 6 innings before giving up another solo HR in the 8th to Alexei Ramirez. At this point in the game Carrasco's pitch count was up to about 90 and he was relying much more on his breaking stuff. Juan Pierre led off the 8th with a deep fly ball out to Crowe in LF on a hanging curve. In the AB Carrasco had been up in the strike zone with his fastball, change and curve. In retrospect, he definitely looked to be losing his location at this point in the game, though his fastball was still hitting 94. Ramirez came up, bases empty, one out in the 8th with the Indians holding a 4-1 lead. After missing low on a curveball to start the AB, Carrasco served up a 94 mph meatball in the upper-central part of the zone, resulting in a Ramirez bullet to the HR porch along the LF line in
In his next start, Carrasco gave up the only really damaging HR in his 2010 stint. Playing in Anaheim on September 6th, Carrasco went into the bottom of the 6th with a 2-1 lead courtesy of a bases loaded walk from Luis Valbuena in the top of the 6th. Either due to differences in the stadium pitch/fx data or because Carrasco was getting tired (he was up over 80 pitches by the start of the 6th), Carrasco's fastball was a little slower than his previous start. He nevertheless induced a Bobby Abreu groundout to open the 6th on a changeup, following 3 fastballs, all pounding the low and outside corner of the zone. Torii Hunter came up next, putting a 1-1 curveball on the outside part of the plate over the right-center wall (see image below). Carrasco had missed well high on his first pitch, a fastball, before delivering a changeup for a strike on the lower part of the plate with his second pitch. His curveball that went for a HR, while perhaps a little bit high, was not a bad pitch and didn't miss in the middle of the plate. Just going back to the video, this one looks like more of a victory for Hunter than a defeat for Carlos. Carrasco managed to finish the inning (allowing a Mike Napoli double) before being removed from the game. But at least against the left-handers he faced, he was still very effectively placing his pitches right on the outside edge of the strike zone.
Two starts later Carrasco was in Kansas City, this time going into the bottom of the 6th supported by a 9-0 lead. He had to this point in the game been very effective, his fastball touching 96 (according to KC's pitch f/x data, with 4 Ks and just one walk. Carrasco started the inning off well with a a first pitch groundout from Gregor Blanco on a nice sinking fastball. But then things began to unravel for Carlos. He got Mike Aviles behind in the count, 1-2, courtesy of a well placed fastball-change combination on the outside edge of the plate, before working Aviles on the inner half of the plate. Aviles fouled off a couple of curveballs and a fastball high and inside, before hitting a 1-2 changeup into the left field stands. This pitch missed the inner part of the plate and instead ended up right in Aviles wheelhouse. Billy Butler followed up Aviles, also going down in the count 1-2 on an inside-outside combination of fastballs and a curve. Carrasco then challenged, and lost badly, on a fastball (93) high and inside to Butler. Carrasco's previous two pitches had been in essentially the same spot (although pitch #3 had been a curve), and Butler was not fooled by this pitches movement or location, resulting in the back-to-back HR. Although the inning didn't result in any more HRs, it wasn't over for Carrasco. Wilsom Betemit followed Butler with a double off of a weak (91) fastball in the lower-outside part of the plate. Carrasco then got Kila Ka'aihue to case badly on a fastball well off the plate for a K. Bryan Pena followed this up with a double to LF that brought home Betemit off a fastball on the outer half of the plate. This is one that probably could have been an out (or at least a single with a possibility of holding Betemit at 3B) if Trevor Crowe was a better fielder, but it instead counts against Carrasco. Carrasco ended the inning with a 7 pitch strikeout of Alex Gordon, pounding the former phenom prospect with a mix of changeups and curveballs.
Carrasco's HR odyssey ended with one final solo-jack in his last start of the season, in Chicago against the Sox. This was Carrasco's worst start of his 2010 Cleveland stint, going 6 innings and giving up 5 earned runs, despite recording 9 Ks (and 3 BBs). Carrasco had his lowest GB-out total in this game (6) out of his Cleveland starts. This was also just an ugly game, with wet conditions (the game was called after the 6th), and the White Sox first two runs coming via a steal of home and a wild pitch. Carrasco's HR came (once again) in the 6th, against the leadoff hitter, Dayan Viciendo (first figure, above). The count was 3-2 when Carrasco put a changeup right down the middle of the plate. Carrasco didn't use a single fastball against Viciendo in the 7-pitch AB.
What can this HR story tell us...I have no idea, actually. I know we cannot count on Carrasco giving up solo homeruns the rest of his career. Men will get on base, and those homeruns will hurt decidedly more in the future if he keeps giving them up at this pace. I think it is worth noting his HRs weren't coming on just one kind of pitch, but instead were a product of his fastball, change, and curve. Most of the egregious HRs seemed to be, not surprisingly, the result of poor location. One could construct a story that most of these incidents could simply be Carrasco getting a little careless in low leverage situations, but I don't think you could find any rigorous support for that idea. You could also make the story that Carrasco's control, particularly on his fastball, begins to waver as his pitch count goes up into the 80s and 90s. But again, I think it would be hard to demonstrate this statistically. I think you can more clearly say that Carrasco is more HR-prone against right-handers. Including his 2009 numbers, 9 of the 12 HRs Carrasco has allowed at the big league level are to righties. This, despite putting up good peripheral numbers against righties (28Ks, 10BBs in 151 PAs). These numbers are ballooned by a .427 BABIP, so they should improve, but clearly Carrasco has to work on focusing more and minimizing his mistakes against right-handed batters.
It is worth looking at how Carrasco fared in high leverage situations. In situations at the big league level in which Carrasco pitched with a leverage index higher than 2, batters went 3-15 with 5 Ks and 3 GIDPs. Those are good numbers. There was some discussion that Carrasco had some makeup issues on the mound related to his ability to handle pressure. I think these numbers would argue against that. There is a lot to look forward to in Carlos heading into 2011. Cutting down on HRs will be huge, though, and a big part of that I think will come from maintaining his focus and control as he begins to tire in games.
Positive Indicators for Carlos Carrasco
- Lower HR-rate (<12% HR/FB)
- Improved value in his fastball (wFB/C ~0 or greater)
- Maintenance of strong peripherals (K/9 >7.5, BB/9 <2.75, K/B >2.5)
- Increased effectiveness over 75 pitches (OPS against < 1.000)
- Narrower HR-split between RHB and LHB (lower HR-rate vs. RHB)
- Good downward movement on his FB (GB-rate near 50%)