Welcome to your regularly scheduled Carlos Carrasco update. It’s another season, but two starts in, Carrasco has already disappointed his biggest fan. It’s easy to point to his 3.51 SIERA, ridiculous .400 BABIP and 53.8% LOB% and claim he’ll enjoy better luck moving forward. Similarly, it’s also simple to call him a head case, perform no analysis whatsoever, and move on. But of course, I’m not going to do either of these things. With a repertoire that seemingly appears fantastic, why isn’t Carrasco the best pitcher in baseball?
The odd thing about the inflated BABIP is that he has a allowed an LD% of just 12.9%. Given that line drives go for hits most frequently of all the batted ball types, it’s a surprise that he has allowed so many hits when the majority of his balls in play are ground balls.
Carrasco throws a fastball, curve ball, slider and changeup. The changeup is easily his best pitch and really among the better ones in the game. It induces both swinging strikes and gobs of ground balls. The .314 wOBA he has allowed when throwing the pitch is decent, but doesn’t exactly match up with the impressive advanced metrics.
He hasn’t thrown his slider as much this year in his first two starts, but over his short career, it actually generated the highest SwStk% of all his pitches. Aside from inducing swings and misses, it gets grounders as well. So this pitch has also been a good weapon and has limited opponents to just a .223 wOBA. That’s more like it.
The last of his secondary offerings is the curve ball. It has been a joy watching him drop it in there for strike three on several occasions. He has gotten a higher rate of swings and misses on the pitch than ever before.
That brings us back to the fastball. And therein lies the problem. Although Carrasco’s fastball sits in the mid-90s and has touched as high as 96.7 mph this year and 98.1 mph historically, the pitch has been clobbered. He throws both a four-seamer and a two-seamer and both have been absolutely wretched. This year, the four-seamer, which he throws most often, has been hit to the tune of a .381 wOBA. While that’s terrible, that’s nothing compared to what hitters have done to his poor two-seamer.
Batters have quite enjoyed Carrasco’s two-seam fastball. How much you ask? Oh, just a delightful .761 wOBA. That’s not OPS, that’s wOBA. In OPS terms, it’s 1.811, including a .444 ISO and .667 batting average. Yeeesh. When you’re fastballs are that bad and you throw them a combined 60% of the time, no wonder why you’re getting blasted.
Now comes the tough part and why I have a problem with a lot of the analysis out there. It’s not enough to say Carrasco has struggled because his fastball hasn’t been effective. wOBA allowed is a result, so we’re just diving into the splits and explaining what is leading to the poor performance. But, what we have to ask is why is his fastball getting crushed?
There are several possible reasons why a fastball would consistently get demolished:
1) It lacks velocity.
Well this doesn’t seem to be the case as Carrasco touches the high 90s with his fastball.
2) It lacks movement and comes in straight, allowing hitters to square up on the ball and hit it hard.
From a scouting report way back yonder in 2008, Carrasco’s fastball was described as thus:
Relatively straight fastball with average life and movement, just a pitch to set the table to use his changeup, works primarily off of the fastball and tends to nibble and get in trouble this way.
Obviously, a lot could have changed since then, especially considering he has endured Tommy John surgery. But this could possibly provide some of the explanation — a straight fastball that is easy for batters to tee off on when making contact.
3) He lacks command of the pitch and poorly locates it, often leading to balls sailing right over the heart of the plate.
Bingo? Check out this heat map of his four and two-seam fastballs throughout his career.
That’s a lot of red right down the middle of the plate.
Furthermore, if we check out Carrasco’s Heart%, which is a proprietary metric on Jeff Zimmerman’s site that calculates the percentage of pitches thrown into their definition of the heart of the plate, we find that his 2013 mark was 50.4%. That’s above the unweighted MLB average of about 46% and jives with the above heat map that suggests Carrasco throws his fastball right down the middle far too often.
4) He lacks any sort of deception in his delivery when he throws the pitch and essentially telegraphs that a fastball is coming.
Unfortunately, there is no statistical way to verify if this is true. It could certainly be an explanation and the Indians tried to increase his deception this offseason:
The Indians raised Carrasco’s lead or left arm during the offseason to give him more deception in his delivery.
Obviously, if this was the problem, the change hasn’t helped any.
So it seems like we’re getting somewhere. His fastball, despite being thrown at a high velocity, is not a good pitch. It’s relatively straight with little movement and he doesn’t command the pitch well within the strike zone. The good news is that command could usually be improved upon. Deception, another potential issue, could also perhaps be worked on and solved.
Unfortunately, movemement is something that comes naturally to most pitchers. You can’t really teach movement, nor could you teach a pitcher to throw 95 mph. Of course, you could make mechanical adjustments that could help things along, but a pitcher is only able to do what he’s physically capable of.
I still hold out hope that Carrasco could turn his fantastic secondary offerings and plus fastball velocity into good pitching performance. If I was able to figure out what’s most likely plaguing him, you would hope that the Indians are able to as well and are continually working with him to mold Carrasco into the future Cy Young contender I know he could be.
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