Perhaps it’s not who will win the position battle for the last starting pitcher slot for the Cleveland Indians that matters. Rather, from a fantasy baseball perspective — who do you want to start on day five for the Cleveland Indians? Because it’s most certainly not Aaron Harang, who seems to be the poster boy for noodle-at-the-ceiling throwing when it comes to a requisite starting pitcher to nom nom nom innings. The battle, it seems, is down to Carlos Carrasco, Josh Tomlin, and Mr. Harang. Yes, yes, I know those of you clutching to your pretty shiny Trevor Bauer cry foul, but the tea leaves are suggesting a need for “refining” in beautiful Columbus.
Back to Aaron Harang. Remember that whole thing about Safeco Field suppressing runs? Remember that time you heard that it was hard to hit home runs at Safeco Field? Yeah, bring that up to Aaron Harang and see which finger he chooses to show you you’re number one. Nothing went right with Seattle in 2013, and Harang posted horrific numbers leading to his ouster (which, by the way, is an incredibly odd word). He found a job in Queens and decided to challenge Roberto Hernandez to a HR/FB-off, running a flat 89 MPH fastball out there like he learned it from former teammate Blake Beavan. So sure, he’s got a 2.00 ERA, 1.11 WHIP over nine innings – that’s just super awesome. Brandon Maurer had a 1.50 ERA over 24 Spring innings in 2013 and you know how well that worked once the bell rang.
This leaves us with Carrasco and Tomlin. Tomlin is having the better spring, but yeah, Spring Training. He is coming off Tommy John surgery — which apparently is very “in” with the kids these days — and all signs point to him becoming the new version of his old self. His old self wasn’t particularly thrilling though, certainly in fantasy circles. His best year was 2011 when he went 12-7 with a 4.25 ERA (4.27 FIP), generating a paltry 13.4% strikeout rate, a stingy walk rate, and relying heavily on his outfield to track down all the fly balls. He missed all of September to an elbow strain that year, and it’s likely the TJ writing was on the wall. He came back in 2012, had poor results, and then had that awful visit to Dr. James Andrews. At best, Tomlin becomes the 2011 version in which case he might be useful to you in deep and/or American League-only variety formats.
Carrasco is the guy with bigger stuff, the proverbial ace-in-waiting with the electric fastball. It’s just that the waiting is taking a long, long time. Carrasco started 21 games in 2011 and was fine. Fine like a Volkswagen Golf, not say, a Kia Sportage. His results, in fact, were very akin to what Tomlin did that same year. A 4.62 ERA (4.28 FIP), an underwhelming 16% strikeout rate given his velocity, and a real penchant for blow-up starts book-ending brilliant ones. If you’re a Fangraphs Plus subscriber, you may have already seen this, but I’ll allow Chad Young’s player capsule on Carrasco do the talking:
“How does a guy who can touch the high 90’s post only 5.79 strikeouts per nine? How does a guy keep a ground-ball rate over 50% for more than 200 innings in his career and still have home run problems? Everything with Carrasco is in the interpretation. I could tell you he has the raw stuff but injuries, inconsistent playing time, and bad luck have conspired against him. I could tell you he’s a hot head (he served a suspension at the start of 2013 for throwing at a batter, and in his first game back, threw at a batter and got suspended again) with a lack of control and a hittable arsenal that looks better on paper than it does crossing the plate.”
Should you be digging this deep in your need for starting pitching, there are a couple other things to consider as kind of tertiary factors. There is Shawn Marcum, coming back from whatever “outlet syndrome” which currently ails him — he could certainly challenge for a spot mid-season. There’s Bauer, who could conceivably challenge after demonstrating a correctly screwed-on-head in AAA. And then there’s the fact that Josh Tomlin still has an option (or options) left and Carrasco does not. That surely means Carrasco makes the team, but doesn’t necessarily guarantee that he’ll be starting. If I had to be a betting man, I’d guess Carrasco gets the nod every fifth day until he pitches himself out of a job. In a deep league, he’s probably worth a flyer.
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