It’s always fun to watch a batter tear the cover off the ball for weeks at a time, or watch a pitcher mow down lineup after lineup over a bunch of starts. But amidst the hype, sometimes the best numbers get lost. In this segment, we’ll attempt to analyze what exactly is behind a player’s hot streak, along with a few impressive statistics you may not have noticed.
Player: Carlos Carrasco
Breakdown Time Frame: August 10th to August 28th (2014)
Performance: 24.2 IP, 24 K, 0.73 ERA, 3 BB, .131 Opponent Batting Average
Below the Surface: On a recent episode of our Wahoo’s on the Mic podcast, Buster Olney expressed his bewilderment at Carrasco’s transformation with an emphatic “what happened?” Many others in the baseball world have no doubt been asking the same question. This sudden and miraculous renaissance of the right-hander has put him in elite company during the month of August, as detailed by staff writer Austin Ingraham.
As always in this segment, the real question is, what is the cause? In his first four starts of the season, Carrasco went 0-3 with a 6.95 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP before being pulled from the rotation and banished to the bullpen. In his four starts since rejoining the rotation, he’s gone the complete opposite direction with a 3-0 record and a 0.73 ERA to go with a 0.57 WHIP. What on earth did Carrasco discover about himself as a pitcher during his time in the bullpen that led to such a dramatic turnaround? Let’s take a closer look.
This is a chart detailing the velocity of Carrasco’s different pitches over the course of the year. FA is his four-seam fastball, FT is his two-seamer, SL is his slider, CU is his curveball, and CH is his change-up.
As we can see, the immediate difference upon the shift to the bullpen was enormous. It may be that Carrasco was holding back somewhat as a starter early on in order to “pace himself” over more innings. But the fascinating thing is, when he returned to the rotation, his velocity continued to climb on every pitch but his curveball. Perhaps the biggest difference is that his fastball velocity is currently averaging almost a 3 mph increase over his early-season numbers. It’s also worth noting that, from his first rotation stint to his current one, the run value per 100 pitches of his fastball (wFB/C) has jumped from -2.68 to +2.18. Carrasco hasn’t just ramped up his velocity. He’s also locating it better, and mixing it better with his other pitches.
It’s likely that being in the bullpen allowed Carrasco to let loose and work under less pressure. Taking the chains off may have allowed him to throw his hardest, which in turn might have made him realize that he doesn’t have to pace himself in the way he once thought he did. Instead, he managed to build up stamina so that he could throw that extra three miles an hour on every fastball.
What Can We Expect Moving Forward? A respect for my journalistic integrity requires me to point out that his .169 BABIP, 4.2% HR/FB rate, and 95% LOB ratio all point to some regression. That being said, there’s no reason to think that Carrasco’s velocity will slow down any time soon. And for what it’s worth, FanGraphs rates his Skills Independent ERA (SIERA) at a remarkable 2.61 for his past four starts. I think what we’ve seen in Carrasco lately is not a fluke or a streak, but an honest transformation driven by confidence in his ability. We’re bound to see a less-than-stellar start eventually, and then the real query will be whether or not he can shake it off and bounce back his next time out. Expect Carrasco to remain in the rotation for 2015, and hopefully many years beyond.