For those who subscribe to FanGraphs+, you have access to informative blurbs on nearly every major league player’s page. When writing about Brandon McCarthy for FG+, Jason Collette credited him with 80-grade social media presence. McCarthy is one of the good guys; he’s likable and easy to root for on many levels.
McCarthy’s had a weird start to the season. His first outing of the season was a mixed bag. In past seasons, his sinker topped out around 91 mph, but this year he has averaged 93 mph with the pitch. He allowed six hits and one walk in that inaugural outing and stranded only 35.7% of his base runners. OK, that’s some unlucky sequencing. Surely the increased velocity will return positive results in the next few outings. Right?
During his April 5 start, he allowed five fly balls. Three of them left the yard. His most recent turn was more impressive. He allowed one fly ball, which left the park. Add it up and McCarthy looks to have some bad luck dragons on his side. He now leads the league with a 41.7% HR/FB ratio, compared with his career rate of just 9.8%.
It’s easy to dismiss his small sample HR/FB rate because we know about things like small samples and what stats are most affected by them. However, a major league pitcher will probably tell you they bear some responsibility for the outcomes in individual games. With that in mind, let’s see what each of these home-run pitches looked like.
March 31, Brandon Belt
Here’s a pitch that ran right into the lefty-clobbering zone. McCarthy is trying to paint the inside corner with that sinker, but it leaks a bit too far over the plate.
April 5, Michael Cuddyer
Here we have a pitch that flattened out up over the middle of the zone. Cuddyer took it out to the opposite field and the ball had just enough juice to clear the wall.
April 5, Nolan Arenado #1
If Cuddyer’s home run just barely cleared the wall, oh my. Let’s turn to the slow-mo.
So like with Cuddyer, this pitch was thrown to a bad location. It’s catching way too much plate. Yet this particular mistake was very nearly an out. You can see in the second GIF that Parra catches the ball and then loses it when he his glove hits the wall. Tough break.
April 5, Arenado No. 2
Another pitch flattening out at the top of the zone. Whatever he’s trying to do to Arenado with these high pitches is not working.
April 11, Adrian Gonzalez
The pitch location looks fine considering it’s the first pitch of the at bat. I think McCarthy was trying to run it back over the plate like with the Belt home run [above], but his main goal is probably to get to an 0-1 count. Gonzalez drops the bat head onto the sinker, and it flies out of the park. In this case, I think McCarthy made a good pitch and got beat by a good hitter.
So there we have it, five home runs. At least three of them were mistake pitches, perhaps all five. The most obvious mistakes occurred at Coors Field. The Rockies’ home field has a way of getting into a pitcher’s head, and the rarefied air can hamper pitch movement, too. The other problem area is with low-and-in sinkers against lefties. Both Belt and Gonzalez took that classic lefty swing and drove the ball deep and gone.
The good news for McCarthy is he’s rolling ground balls like a champ (63.8 GB%). It might be his new found velocity helping his sinker, or he could regress back to his career averages. His xFIP is a lovely 3.34, and he’s never been particularly home run prone. Better days are probably ahead.
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