Why Carlos Carrasco Is a Legitimate Cy Young Candidate in 2016

One of the best starting pitchers in the MLB remains a relative unknown. Here is why he can fix that this year.

Last season, five qualified starting pitchers in Major League Baseball averaged more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings. 

One of them was Carlos Carrasco.

The others included Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Chris Archer and Chris Sale.

Carrasco, once a top-50 prospect with front-of-the-line starter potential, fell off the map and was moved to the Cleveland Indians' bullpen just under two years ago. But since moving back from the bullpen, Carrasco has not only found himself as a starting pitcher, but he's also transformed himself into one of the best starting pitchers in the Majors. 

After returning to the rotation in 2014, Carrasco posted a 1.30 ERA, 1.73 FIP, 2.16 xFIP with 10.17 strikeouts per nine, 1.95 walks per nine and 0.47 homers per nine in 10 starts. 

In an albeit small sample size, Carrasco looked incredible, and his numbers rivaled some of the best in baseball. If he had had enough innings to quality, his 14.0 swinging strike rate would have been second among starters, behind only Kershaw. 

And in 2015, Carrasco continued his dominance, emerging as the number-two starter in the Indians' potent pitching staff behind Corey Kluber.

This past season, in 183.2 innings, Carrasco had a 3.63 ERA, 2.84 FIP, 2.66 xFIP with 10.58 K/9, 2.11 BB/9 and 0.88 HR/9 posting 4.8 fWAR. 

Here's how he ranked among all qualified starters in 2015:

Player ERA FIP xFIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 fWAR
Carrasco 37 9 4 5 24 37 15

While his ERA was a bit high, mostly due to poor defense behind him for a good portion of the season, Carrasco ranked among the best in baseball in some major categories. It's safe to say Carrasco pitched fantastically, and he was in pretty elite company.

Of the five starters who averaged more than 10 K/9, only two had a ground ball rate higher than 50 percent. One, of course, was Carrasco, and the other was Kershaw.

And if you take a deeper dive into his stats, he continues to look even better.

Carrasco ranked fifth among qualified starters in swinging strike percentage, with a 14.0 percent mark. That placed him behind only the likes Kershaw, Sale, Scherzer and Francisco Liriano. He also ranked among the top 10 in first-pitch strike percentage, throwing strikes 67.3 percent of the time on the first pitch, and had one of the lowest contact rates among starters.

And with a 66 xFIP-, Carrasco was 34 percent better than the league average, and ranked third in the category, again only behind Sale and Kershaw. 

Sensing a theme here? (It's that he's really good.)

Finally, taking a look at his pitch values, Carrasco's slider, curveball and changeup all ranked among the top 20 pitches, in terms of slider runs above average (wSL), curveball runs above average (wCB) and changeup runs above average (wCH), respectively. And on a per-100-pitch basis, Carrasco's curveball was the third most valuable pitch in baseball, behind Kluber's curveball and Danny Salazar's changeup. 

And somehow, even with all those incredible statistics, Carrasco has remained a relative unknown, when in reality, he's one of the best pitchers in the MLB.

But this year, that's about to change, as Carrasco looks primed to make a run at the American League Cy Young award. 

Steamer projections peg Carrasco to pitch 188.0 innings with a 3.08 ERA, 2.96 FIP, 9.66 K/9 and 2.30 BB/9 while posting a 4.8 fWAR, good for seventh best in the MLB among starting pitchers, and fourth in the AL, which would put him right in the thick of the AL Cy Young race.

ZiPS projections are a little less high on Carrasco, projecting a 3.08 ERA, 2.73 FIP, 10.08 K/9 and 2.04 BB/4 with a 4.0 zWAR and a top comparison of Curt Schilling. But even then, he'd be still be in the thick of the Cy Young race and post a very darn good season.  

And, somehow, the Indians have him under  contract through 2020 for about $22 million. 

It's time to stop doubting Carrasco, and it's time to show him some love. One of the best pitchers in the MLB last season, Carrasco should no longer be an unknown as he looks to put together another great season, attempting to bring the AL Cy Young to Cleveland for the second time in three years.