MLB

Why Carlos Carrasco Deserves More Attention

How Carrasco went from pitching in relief in 2014 to being one of the game's best starters.

Cleveland Indians hurler Carlos Carrasco has become an elite pitcher, and hardly anyone is noticing.

The truth is Carrasco became a bonafide star last season amongst even less fanfare.

Let's look at some blind peripherals from 2014.

2014 FIP xFIP BB/9 K/9 IP
Player A  2.35 2.57   1.95  10.27  252 2/3
Player B  2.44 2.66  1.95  9.4 134


Player A is Cleveland teammate Corey Kluber, who rode those numbers to the Cy Young Award. Player B is Carrasco. Obviously, Kluber was able to sustain those numbers while pitching nearly 120 more innings, but Carrasco's 2014 wasn't too far behind that of his more ballyhooed rotation mate.

Of pitchers who threw at least 100 innings in 2014, Carrasco checked in fourth with a FIP of 2.44, a better mark than all-world pitchers Chris Sale (2.57) or Felix Hernandez (2.56). Carrasco fanned 9.4 batters per nine innings with a BB/9 rate of 1.95.

Why did it, for the most part, go unnoticed? Well, Carrasco did it like a thief in the night, which is to say he remade himself while working out of the bullpen for a majority of the year.

Carrasco's Career

Carrasco was a starter his entire career, posting moderately decent numbers in the Phillies organization before being dealt to Cleveland as a part of the Cliff Lee deal in 2009. After posting a 2.87 FIP in 42 1/3 innings in Triple-A with the Indians, he got a cup of coffee in the bigs at the end of the 2009 season. It didn’t go well, to the tune of an ugly 7.08 FIP over 22 1/3 innings.

Carrasco’s 2010 season followed the same pattern as he pitched most of the year in Triple-A (3.93 FIP in 150 1/3 innings) before finishing the season with a subpar stint in The Show (4.13 FIP in 44 2/3 innings).

In his first full season with Cleveland in 2011, Carrasco pitched 124 2/3 innings, totaling a 4.28 FIP. The season ended horribly, though, as he tore his UCL ligament and landed on the shelf after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The timing of it, coming right at the end of the 2011 campaign, caused him to miss the entire 2012 season.

When he returned to the mound in 2013, Carrasco split his time between the big leagues and Triple-A. He started 14 games in Triple-A, but in his time with the big-league club, Cleveland opted to give him seven starts and brought him out of the bullpen on eight occasions.

The Indians continued utilizing Carrasco as a sixth starter, so to speak, in 2014, using him as both a starter and reliever -- until Carrasco forced his way into the rotation for good.

In 2014, his first season spent entirely in the big leagues, Carrasco had by far his best showing, posting a miniscule 2.44 FIP over 26 relief appearances and 14 starts. He was a reliever until August, and all he did as a starter was end the season by giving up one run or fewer in eight of his 10 starts, fanning 54 batters in 44 ⅓ innings over the final month.

He’s continued the dominance in 2015.

Carrasco in 2015

Through most of August, Carrasco owns a 2.79 FIP and strikes out 9.85 batters per nine innings. His FIP ranks 10th among all pitchers while his K/9 rate slots in seventh. His nERD -- which represents the number of runs prevented by comparison to a league-average pitcher per game -- of 2.24 is good for 12th.

Any way you slice it, he’s one of the best in the game this season.

How does a guy who made 26 appearances as a reliever in 2014 become one of the game’s elite starting pitchers a year later?

The glaring difference in his pitch repertoire is with his slider usage, which went up from 10.0 percent in 2013 all the way to 22.1 percent in 2014. Throwing more sliders -- and nasty ones, at that -- caused a spike in his swinging strike rate, which jumped from 9.0 percent in 2013 to 13.4 percent in 2014.

Carrasco has kept tweaking things this season.

He is using his knockout slider less (down to 15.1 percent) and his changeup more (12.3 percent to 20.7 percent). He’s also remade his fastball, which has the 10th highest average velocity at 94 miles per hour. Carrasco’s four-seam fastball usage is down from 45.3 in 2014 to 33.8 this year. What he’s done instead is throw a lot more two-seamers, upping his usage from 11.4 percent to 22.5 percent.

When you consider his contract, he’s one of the best values in baseball right now. Carrasco is in the first season of a four-year, $22 million deal that includes a pair of team options for 2019 and 2020. As a pitcher on pace for a five-win season, according to Fangraphs’ WAR, Carrasco is worth roughly $30 million this season, and he'll cost Cleveland just $22 million through 2018.

Our algorithms have Carrasco continuing to put up elite numbers the rest of the way, posting a 2.96 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and racking up 49 strikeouts, which are fourth-most among pitchers.