What’s Wrong With Carlos Carrasco?

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.

Carlos Carrasco Fastball Location

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.

We know you play in all sorts of leagues. So to help you fine-tune the analysis you’d like to read, we’ve added three tags to the categories on the right: Roto, Head to Head, and Daily Fantasy Update. Use these to get the information that is most relevant to your leagues!




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Mike Podhorzer produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. He also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.


24 Responses to “What’s Wrong With Carlos Carrasco?”

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  1. Cuck City says:

    People need to stop freaking out over poor pitching performances this early in the season.
    Small sample size in very cold weather games. After spending the spring in warm climates and they then are pitching in 29 degree Minnesota. Some guys just cant deal with it, especially those from island countries.

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    • jayhawker108 says:

      Is there any statistical evidence that guys from “island countries” struggle in April? Does Japan count? Tanaka seems to be doing okay…

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    • Dan Greer says:

      Carrasco’s been awful his entire career, which isn’t a very small sample size. And the heat maps do cover his entire career.

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  2. Frogger says:

    I’m hoping for a Carrasco turnaround as well, but it seems like wishful thinking. Yeah, it’s only a couple of starts, but it’s just as easy to look at the not so small sample size of everything that Carlos has done in the bigs, roughly 250 innings of the same ineffectiveness despite impressive stuff, and not think that he hasn’t taken any steps forward. If it’s true that the Tribe coaches tried to tweak his delivery so as not to tip pitches, then it indicates it was a real problem, and when you pour straight heaters over the middle of the plate like that, telling the batter it’s coming is charity the Red Cross might find excessive. Have they tried getting him to read poetry and wear garters under his uni?

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  3. Skating Tripods says:

    One of Carrasco’s biggest problems would seem to be a lack of depth in his arsenal. Or at least the lack of making adjustments.

    First time through: .252/.322/.384/.706 (376 PA)

    Second time through: .337/.385/.543/.927 (373 PA)

    Third time through: .328/.375/.560/.935 (280 PA)

    Fourth time through: .316/.440/.368/.808 (25 PA)

    As an Indians fan, I’ve always felt that he profiles best as a reliever where he can go all out at 96-98 in short bursts. I know they’re in a market where they can’t give up on starters with his type of stuff, but these splits are there for a reason.

    Also, as Podhorzer pointed out, he’s a bit of a headcase. Think he’s better suited for one inning rather than having to navigate through five or six innings while maintaining his composure.

    Another thing to keep an eye on is that he had his next start pushed back because he complained of a tired arm in the middle innings in Chicago.

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  4. stonepie says:

    put him in the pen and call up bauer

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  5. RotoLando says:

    How do you tell a guy who throws a legitimately hard fastball that it sucks and he should stop throwing it?

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  6. JR Ewing says:

    Most of Carrasco’s early season woes stem from Podhorzer not believing hard enough. Haven’t you seen Peter Pan, The Santa Clause, Miracle of 34th Street, Elf, or Empire Strikes Back? Sunday afternoon when you turn on Tor v Cle you’ve gotta sprinkle some fairy dust, get some milk and cookies, and stop being a cotton-headed ninny-muggins as you feel the Carrasco flowing through you.

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  7. FeslenR says:

    After watching his starts on MLBpackage…I’d say he’s just hittable, very much so. His pitches are straight, and no deception. Of course, it’s also early April.

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  8. maguro says:

    Maybe he’s just not very good.

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  9. tribefaninnc says:

    The heart of the plate is definitely a problem. The other three most frequent zones are a problem too – balls up in the zone (I’m assuming the outside ring are not strikes).

    He’s not keeping the ball down and his four most frequent zones (i.e. 25-30% of pitches) are balls and down the middle. Not exactly a recipe for a long career.

    Basically, this is all in Bauer’s hands. If he continues to tear up AAA and solves his control issues, the Indians will have no choice but to bump Carrasco whenever he is ready.

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  10. jdbolick says:

    Most important things for a pitch:
    #1) Movement
    #2) Location
    #3) Velocity

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      Every mph is worth .2-.33 RA per nine.

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      • jdbolick says:

        I hate when people keep citing this because it’s such lazy analysis, and I haven’t seen proof that it’s showing causation instead of just correlation. But sure, if a pitch has the same movement and location in both cases then you’d prefer it to be traveling at a higher velocity to decrease the batter’s reaction time. But anyone who spends any time with a pitching machine can tell you that it’s not that difficult to hit a 100mph pitch if it’s straight and you know where it’s going. Meanwhile it’s also true that throwing a pitch harder often makes it more difficult to locate and decreases movement.

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  11. Tim says:

    I do think a decent amount of bad luck is involved so far…the issue is Cleveland might not wait long for it to even out.

    Carlos not having any minor league options is the best thing he has going for himself…but a trip to the bullpen could be coming soon.

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    • RotoworldModsAreNazis says:

      I think his next start is actually make or break for him. If he gets blown up again against the Blue Jays this weekend, I think he’s bullpen bound and Bauer will be back in the rotation. And with the way Bauer looks so far this season, he’d likely keep that spot barring injury.

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  12. Grammar Police says:

    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.

    Apparently, multiple offender Eno Sarris didn’t pass along the message to his staff of jive turkeys. The proper word is jibe. You’ve been cited.

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  13. danwatson19 says:

    Having watched him for the last few seasons, his problems are all mental. The kid has an amazing arsenal, but simply crumbles under the pressure of an MLB game.

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  14. Wily Mo Yen Mo Problems says:

    Tomorrow’s edition: “What’s wrong with Danny Salazar?”

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  15. baltic fox says:

    Think Chris Tillman, spring of 2012. He’s looking just as dreadful as he did in 2011 and 2010.

    The Orioles send him down to AAA and work on his mechanics. When he comes back, he’s pounding the bottom of the zone a lot more frequently, getting ahead of batters instead of constantly setting up hitter’s counts and has increased velocity.

    Now, it’s clear that Tillman was teachable and he made the proper adjustments so that he could be a solid, if unspectacular, starter for the Orioles.

    Carrasco has 12 Ks in only 10 innings pitched. We know his secondary offerings are good–the whiff rates are not a mirage–and that he induces a lot of ground balls–a lot more than Tillman.

    Like Pods said, you can’t teach movement–that either comes naturally with the fastball or it doesn’t. But you can definitely make some mechanical tweaks to help him keep the fastball out of the center of the plate. I’ve seen the transformation occur with Tillman, so I know it’s possible for a pitcher who has at least as much talent.

    I trust that Francona has assembled a coaching staff that recognizes Carrasco’s strengths and weaknesses. And that they have enough experience to help him fix his flaws.

    What I’m not sure about is Carrasco’s learning curve.

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  16. Frogger says:

    From the Plain Dealer today:

    Carrasco and pitching coach Mickey Callaway have worked tirelessly to make sure Carrasco’s lead arm is high during delivery, thereby creating more of a downhill plane and increasing movement and deception. Carrasco told reporters after the game that he only kept the lead arm high in the first inning. Later, he seemed to complain about having to try to make the mechanical adjustment, saying: “You know what: I felt different when I started doing my arm down a little bit. When it went up, (the pitches) were 90-92 mph. When it went down, they went 94-96.” Near the end of the chat, he drove home the point once more.

    What Carrasco seemingly fails to realize is, reduced velocity doesn’t hurt him nearly as much as lack of movement, bad location and suspect pitch selection. The reason that Callaway and Tribe manager Terry Francona want the lead arm up is because hitters have gotten too good of a look at pitches that are too straight — notably the fastest ones.

    Carrasco likely was grinding about the homer he allowed to Morse, which came on a 92-mph fastball. In that case, though, pitch selection and location should be called into question before looking at velocity.

    In the first inning, Carrasco allowed a single to leadoff batter Angel Pagan on a 96-mph fastball; an RBI triple to Hunter Pence on a 94-mph fastball; and a deep sacrifice fly by Morse on a 96-mph fastball. All three pitches gave the hitters plenty of swing room.

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  17. star5328 says:

    Maybe starting to become the pitcher you always imagined?

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