Is Carlos Carrasco Finally Becoming the Starter We All Thought He Would Be?
In July, I wrote about how Carlos Carrasco was finding success as a reliever after twice failing as a starter. So of course, within the next two weeks, the Indians, with a huge need for starting pitching - having just traded Justin Masterson - gave Carrasco another chance as a starter.
And Indians fans, including myself, were not happy about the decision. Up until then, Carrasco, who had once been a top 50 prospect with front-of-the-line starter potential, had a plus 6.00 ERA as a starter, but he'd been finding success in the bullpen, with a 2.30 ERA, 2.92 FIP and 2.96 xFIP.
But the Indians needed starting pitching, so on August 10, Carrasco made his first start since April against the New York Yankees, and boy did he surprise. In 5.0 innings pitched, Carrasco struck out four and gave up just two hits.
But it didn't stop there. In 10 starts to finish off the season, Carrasco posted a 1.30 ERA, 1.73 FIP, 2.16 xFIP with 10.17 K/9, 1.95 BB/9 and 0.47 HR/9. Compared to his four miserable starts at the beginning of the season, in which he posted a 6.95 ERA, 3.72 FIP, 3.66 xFIP with 9.41 K/9, 3.68 BB/9 and 0.82 HR/9, Carrasco was pitching much, much better.
Carrasco took the same mentality he used to find success in the bullpen, according to MLB.com Indians reporter Jordan Bastian, and used it in his approach to starting. And it's worked as he pitched better than he ever has as a starter in his career.
Carrasco's striking out more batters, a 29.8 strikeout percentage in his 10 starts, compared to a 16.2 strikeout percentage for the rest of his career as a starter. He's also walking less batters, 4.2 walk percentage in these last 10 starts, compared to a 8.0 walk percentage for the rest of his career as a starter. Opponents are hitting .179 off of him, compared to .290 previously, and while a .251 batting average on balls in play has been helping, there's no doubt he's certainly pitching better.
To start, his fastball velocity has been up in his past three starts, a full three miles per hour higher. And with the jump in fastball velocity, it's become more effective. Previously, in his entire career, Carrasco's fastball has a -47.1 wFB - fastball runs above average - but in his past 10 starts, his wFB is 5.3. Even in a small, 10 start sample size, Carrasco's 5.3 wFB is higher than he's had in any single season, and it's not even close.
Additionally, the rest of Carrasco's arsenal of pitches, a slider, curveball and changeup, have been better. His wSL is up eight runs, from 2.0 wSL to 10.1 wSL, his curveball is about the same, -0.8 wCB in his 10 starts compared to -0.8 wCB in his career, and his changeup has been much better as well, up to 6.1 wCH from 2.5 wCH in his career. His stuff is the best its been in his entire career.
And with an improved arsenal of pitches, Carrasco has been making batters swing and miss more often, while getting less contact. He continues to pound the zone, with a 45.3 percent zone percentage, but has been getting less contact, down to 72.6 percent from 81.8 percent, but more swings, up from 48.2 percent to 52.8 percent. If Carrasco has the innings to qualify, and these numbers stayed fairly constant, his contact, swing and zone percentages would put him among the top 20 pitchers in the MLB.
As would his first strike percentage, 69.1 percent in these past 10 starts compared to 58.9 percent previously, and his would his swinging strike percentage, 14.0 percent compared to 8.6 percent. If Carrasco had the innings to qualify, his 14.0 swinging strike percentage would be second in the MLB, only worse than Clayton Kershaw.
Carrasco wasn't just good in his 10 starts, he was flat out dominant, on the level of an ace and one of the best pitchers in the MLB down the stretch. If Carrasco can keep this up, he'd give the Indians one of the best rotations in baseball along with Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Danny Salazar.
And there's no reason to think he can't. While his BABIP will probably regress a little, he's got great stuff and can control it well. He's striking out a lot of batters, while walking relatively few and giving up a lot of ground balls - he had a 49.1 ground ball percentage in his last 10 starts and a 50.6 ground ball percentage previously.
Yes it's a small sample size, just 10 starts, but there's few, if any, signs pointing to more than a small regression. He should continue to pitch like an ace for the Indians, finally becoming the front-of-the-line starter many projected him to be.