Remember when Fausto Carmona looked like Cleveland’s ace-in-waiting? As a 23 year-old back in 2007, Carmona compiled a 3.94 Fielding Independent ERA in 215 innings pitched. The Dominican Republic native employed a devastating, hard sinker (93.5 MPH) that generated groundballs by the bucketful (64.3%, bested only by Derek Lowe). That extreme worm burning, coupled with a passable strikeout rate (5.73 K/9) and fairly sharp control (2.55 BB/9) led many to believe that the 6-4, 230 pounder could be headed for a Lowe-esque career path, minus the years of relief work and long wait to crack the starting rotation.
These days, though? Carmona looks more Sean Lowe than Derek Lowe.
Carmona’s 2008 season was marred by a hip injury that limited him to 120 innings. His FIP climbed nearly a full run, up to 4.89. While he still kept his infielders on their toes (63.5 GB%), his K rate fell to 4.33 per nine innings. Far more troubling was his total lack of control: Carmona’s walk rate soared to 5.22, the highest figure among all starters tossing at least 120 innings. His strikeout-to-walk ratio plummeted from 2.25 in 2007 to a Daniel Cabrera-like 0.83 in 2008. Ironically, Cabrera (1.06 K/BB) actually beat Carmona, who ranked dead last in K/BB ratio among starting pitchers.
Entering 2009, there still remained hope that a mended Carmona would round into his 2007 form. But with each passing, disappointing outing, that looks less and less likely. In 58.2 innings, the 25 year-old owns a wretched 5.62 FIP, the product of 5.37 K/9 and 5.83 BB/9 (Carmona again brings up the rear among qualified starters in walks per nine innings and ranks second-to-last in K/BB ratio. Thanks, Jon Garland.)
Carmona’s collapse has been stunning, both for its suddenness and his age. Like the recently DFA’D Cabrera, Carmona is a young man who has seemingly lost every mote of consistency and talent that made him one of the more impressive young hurlers a few seasons ago. Relying heavily upon a sinking fastball, Fausto has lost velocity on the offering since his banner ’07 season:
2007: thrown 75% of the time, 93.5 MPH
2008: thrown 80.9%, 92.8 MPH
2009: thrown 81.4%, 92.5 MPH
Only Colorado’s Aaron Cook (86.6%) goes to his sinker more often than Carmona among starters. Disturbingly, that once-hellish pitch is now decidedly below-average. Take a look at Carmona’s not-so-turbo sinker, through Fan Graphs’ new pitch linear weights section. Below are Fausto’s run values for his fastball per 100 pitches, from 2007 to 2009 (a positive number indicates that a pitch saves more runs than average per 100 pitches, while a negative figure indicates that the pitch is below average):
Over the past few years, Carmona’s sinker has lost over two runs per 100 pitches in value. When that’s your bread-and-butter offering and a pitch thrown over three-quarters of the time, you have a serious problem on your hands.
Locating just 44.5% of his pitches within the strike zone (49% MLB average), Carmona has seen opponents become increasingly content to just keep the bat on their shoulders. Predictably, his three-year down slope in placing his offerings in the zone has coincided with fewer and fewer hacks by opponents:
2007: 51.4 Zone%, 47.9 Swing%
2008: 50.8 Zone%, 45.1 Swing%
2009: 44.5 Zone%, 42.9 Swing%
Carmona’s fall has been as severe as any pitcher’s in recent years, as he’s gone from a hurler worth 4.3 Wins in 2007 to a guy who’s just keeping his head above the replacement level waters in 2009 (0.2 WAR so far). In what’s shaping up to be another disappointing summer in Cleveland, Carmona’s devolving from organizational pillar to pinata ranks as one of the most bitter pills to swallow. Maybe those midges were a warning sign.
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