Where Have You Gone, Fausto?

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):

2007: +0.57
2008: -0.15
2009: -1.52

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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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.


10 Responses to “Where Have You Gone, Fausto?”

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  1. alskor says:

    So any thoughts on him turning it around? Is the sinker just gone??

    Sort of reminds me of DLowe’s struggled with the Sox earlier in his career. He was walking tons of guys… but the sinker was still nasty, so that’s a difference.

    His GB rate is no longer in “ridiculous” territory, but still really, really good. That kind of indicates to me the sinker still has something on it. The run values, etc… seem to be more a function of the sinker not being where he needs it, as you say. Sliver of hope there…?

    Despite myself I keep seeing him as a buy low candidate… Im just afraid it may take a couple years to turn it around.

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  2. Joel says:

    Ironically enough, on the bottom line in that picture shows Kelvim Escobar as the scheduled starter against the Red Sox, the last start Escobar has made to date.

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  3. tarheelcoach says:

    So basically, his struggles are a matter of control. Couldn’t that just be a byproduct of his injury/time off? He never had control issues in the minors, so this is obviously injury related. Either he’s still working his way back, or the injury affected him permanently. He’s only 25, so you gotta believe he’ll get back to what he was.

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    • cptspandex says:

      It’s not unheard of, or even all that rare, for a pitcher to be completely washed up by the time he reaches his mid-20′s (think Steve Avery). The abuse that his arm took in 2007 is clearly the culprit here.

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  4. Ezra says:

    I don’t believe in Carmona. In fact, I believe his regression continues, a la Anthony Reyes.

    A big red flag that indicated his potential implosion is the dramatic IP increase from 2006 to 2007.

    2006 AAA BUF 27.2 IP
    2006 MLB CLE 74.2 IP

    2007 MLB CLE 215.0 IP
    2007 playoffs 15.0 IP

    That’s a 227% increase; not wise for any pitcher let alone someone who is 23 years old at the time. Granted, having a closing playoff window makes it hard not to rely on your aces, but in hindsight Eric Wedge is looking more and more like Cub’s folklore legend Dusty Baker.

    Grey and Rudy at Razzball have done some work with predicting pitching busts and have come up with some interesting analysis on the subject. Interestingly, they use pitch counts instead of IP as a measure of workload, which I would assume is much more accurate.

    They take into account:
    1 High Pitch Volume
    2 Spike in Pitch Volume (from previous year)
    3 New to the Workload (first season with 2700 total pitches)
    4 High Percentage of Breaking Pitches (80% sliders definetly qualifies, Carmona!)

    It is also difficult to assess the impact of pressure situations, but Carmona’s last 2 appearances in 2007 (in the ALCS vs BOS) were both diasasters. With this set of data in hand, it is not surprising to see Fausto struggling, again.

    http://razzball.com/can-previous-year-pitch-counts-help-identify-risky-pitchers/

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    • hans says:

      “(80% sliders definetly qualifies, Carmona!)”

      Are you saying that he throws sliders 80% of the time?

      If so, this is wrong.

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      • Ezra says:

        To quote from the article,

        “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.”

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  5. hans says:

    I’ve been looking at some of the pitch fx data on Carmona this year and recently compared it to his 2007 year. His release point is later (lower and further out) than it was that season. As someone noted above he could simply be behind in his recovery from his injury last season. The comparison to Daniel Cabrera is a bit too quick for my taste. His mechanics are simply out of whack and it may be that the Cleveland coaching staff is just now realizing that. If their rotation was decimated by injuries right now he’d be down in AAA Columbus working on those mechanics. You can account that drop in his fastball to the mechanics as well, and the mechanics themselves could be a bad habit developed by pitching through an injury last season (before going on the DL that is). So I’d hold off on giving up on the kid. In terms of fantasy purposes he’s probably not going to be any good until he does get sent down to AAA (maybe when Westbrook returns to the rotation later this month).

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    • hans says:

      Meant to say…. “If their rotation wasn’t decimated by injuries right now he’d be down in AAA Columbus working on those mechanics.”

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  6. kris says:

    At some point, i’d like this expanded to include all sinker-balls. It seems as though each and every one of those pitchers has lost something. The whole two-seam club really seems to have faltered in the last year or two..

    no?

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