Yeah, I’m that guy. Well, I’m one of those guys. The ones who lambasted the decision to put Carlos Carrasco in the rotation at the start of the year. At the time, we all thought that this was a contending team, and that spending the first month of the year letting Carrasco prove one last time that he couldn’t handle starting would cost the Indians games that might come back to haunt them in September.
Well, that may all still be true. Because of Carrasco, Aaron Harang and his nine wins are in Atlanta, and the Indians are three games out of the second wild card, which happens to be exactly how many games Carrasco lost before he was pulled from the rotation. Meanwhile, Carrasco has been as steady as a rock in the bullpen, with an ERA of 1.44 since June 1. He has lately been used in some high-leverage situations and has still been solid, giving the impression that he could handle a late-inning role on a full-time basis.
So do I look like an idiot when I say maybe Carrasco should get another shot in the rotation? What is the definition of crazy – to try the same thing over and over and expect a different result? Do I really think Carrasco has grown that much as a pitcher in three months that we could expect anything other than the torture he put us through before?
I really have no idea. There may be some analytical tools that can tell us whether his recent improvement, but my hunch is that the problem is mostly mental, so we won’t know if he’s licked it until he tries again. Whether trying again is the right move is a risk-reward question.
If you consider the Indians a true contender, you may think the best move is to leave Carrasco where he is. This would be especially true if you agree with Terry Francona that the perfect roster would be 24 relievers and one guy to chase down fly balls. However, there are only so many situations where relievers can directly impact games, which means that, even with Francona, four or five relievers are going to be used in high leverage situations. The others are essentially filler for games where the outcome is decided. Even as well as Carrasco has pitched, he stands behind Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw in the bullpen pecking order. Since Allen and Shaw are under team control for longer than Carrasco, this situation is essentially permanent.
Carrasco is therefore competing for a late inning role with a handful of pitchers who have pitched about as well as he as. This includes Kyle Crockett, Scott Atchison, and Mark Rzepczynski. Even John Axford and Nick Hagadone have shown signs of life over the past month or so. The bottom line is that using any of those guys instead of Carrasco in a late-inning situation is only going to marginally impact the odds of winning that game. In middle relief situations, the game is generally already decided, so C.C. Lee or a number of other pitchers are as useful as Carrasco would be.
In the rotation, however, Carrasco could make a difference. I wouldn’t be willing to put odds on it, but bear in mind that, as of now, 40% of the starts for the rest of the season will be made by some combination of Josh Tomlin, T.J. House, and Zach McAllister. Bear in mind also, if you’re inclined to think of the future, that of the top twenty prospects on the Indians’ website, one has started a game above A-ball, and that guy – Cody Anderson – has a 4.97 ERA at Akron. So unless you expect Shaun Marcum to ride to the rescue in September or a Scott Kazmir-like reclamation project to come through next season, the Indians will either need to spend serious money on a starting pitcher or make a trade. Failing that, the best option is to take one of their plethora of strong-armed relievers and convert him to a starter. Carrasco makes as much sense as anyone else.
Let’s say they spend the month of August stretching Carrasco out. He has thrown as many as 55 pitches as a reliever and has thrown at least 39 pitches on four occasions. How hard would it be to have him ready to thrown 60-70 pitches by September? At that point they can bring up ten more relievers, so they certainly won’t miss him in the bullpen. Seventy pitches could get him through five innings, which is better than McAllister or Tomlin has done lately. If he could do that four or five times in September, he could actually make a difference.
As far as next year, who knows? Hopefully McAllister just needs to get healthy, and they will certainly add a starter somehow. But right now it looks like a shortage of arms in the rotation for the foreseeable future, and the Indians should be looking to fix that shortage any way they can.
Editor’s Note: Carlos Carrasco pitched 3 scoreless innings in last night’s game before fatigue set in. If Carrasco can get stretched out as Jeff mentioned, he may be effective sooner than we think.