It’s the middle of the week and the Indians lost Tuesday night to the Kansas City Royals, all of this while the Baltimore Orioles, Texas Rangers, AND the Tampa Bay Rays also lost. How important could that game be a couple of weeks from now? Which brings me to the small size overreaction that comes along with any sort of reflection upon baseball.
Carlos Carrasco has been “not good” as a starting pitcher over his brief career. Certainly, an argument could be made regarding how well he pitched prior to undergoing Tommy John surgery in September of 2011, when he was 8-4 with a 3.54 ERA after 15 starts only to see it fall apart over his final six starts prior to surgery (0-5, 7.92 ERA), but overall, Carrasco has done this as a starter:
Carrasco has battled being inconsistent in throwing strikes while being far too hittable when showcasing his supposed “talents” as a starting pitcher. But what if he were to never start another game for the Cleveland Indians?
Carrasco will be 27 on Opening Day in 2014 and the Indians could have a need for him in the rotation due to the possible loss of both Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez; however, if Cleveland doesn’t re-sign Joe Smith and/or they non-tender Chris Perez, could Carrasco be useful at the back-end of the bullpen?
There are several names that come to mind when looking at strong relief pitchers: Aroldis Chapman, Craig Kimbrel, and Mariano Rivera always pop first due to their long-term dominance or their dominant stuff. Sometimes, starting pitchers just aren’t good, but no club should just give up on those guys without trying them in another role, and I’m not talking about turning that pitcher into a position player like Rick Ankiel.
The Kansas City Royals are a perfect example of this type of role change, and how convenient that the Indians were playing them when this became so obvious.
Luke Hochevar had made 127 starts between 2008 and 2012. He went 38-58 with a 5.45 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, and a 526:253 K:BB (2.08 K:BB) in 758.1 innings. After being terrible for that long and receiving $4.56 million through arbitration, the Royals moved Hochevar to the bullpen, where he has erupted into this kind of talent:
That is quite a drastic improvement in all of his numbers and it can largely be credited to Hochevar’s stuff, which has improved dramatically in short doses. Below is Luke Hochevar’s pitch selection and average velocity.
The increase in fastball velocity (95.5 mph in 2013 vs. 92.6 mph in 2012), the increased use of the cutter (which may just be a high-velocity slider due to the increased fastball velocity shown), and the nearly eliminated change-up have allowed the former No.1 overall pick to reinvent himself as a powerful setup man and possible future closer, although not in Kansas City with Greg Holland around.
Beyond Hochevar, the Royals have also reinvented Will Smith, a big, powerful left-hander, who was the proud (?) owner of this gross line in 2012:
A 22-year-old who struggled in his first attempt as a starter in Major League Baseball…no problem, the Royals didn’t give him a shot to reclaim a starting role, oh no, they put him in the bullpen in 2013 and he has done this:
Much like Hochevar, Smith’s is drastically different in the relief role, as shown below.
While it isn’t velocity that has led to Smith dominating, it seems to be the use of his slider, and, like Hochevar, the elimination of his change-up. Smith went from potential organizational arm in the Los Angeles Angels’ system to dominant, left-handed bullpen arm. To think, he didn’t make his debut as a reliever until June 25 this season, otherwise, Smith would probably be receiving more accolades for his dominance.
Carlos Carrasco has made all of 12 appearances in the 2013 season. In five games as a relief pitcher, Carrasco has done this:
Beyond his 0.00 ERA over 11.2 innings, Carrasco’s BB/9 is down from 3.5 to 3.0 and his K/9 is up from 5.2 to 6.9. Why is that this case?
Carrasco’s fastball seems to be averaging closer to 96 mph as a relief pitcher, he is throwing his slider nearly four mph slower than he was as a starter, and there appears to be a slight bump in velocity to his curveball and change-up. I was unable to find data to show how frequently the pitches were thrown, but adding and subtracting velocity shows a slightly different approach while on the mound for the Indians’ right-hander.
Could Carlos Carrasco become the next Luke Hochevar by dominating out of the bullpen? Sure. Could another year removed from Tommy John surgery allow Carrasco to regain his stuff and be an effective starting pitcher? Absolutely.
Whatever role Carrasco fulfills over the remainder of the 2013 season, he will be heavily relied upon by the Indians in 2014.
What role would you like to see Carrasco fill in 2014?