Carrasco’s Contact Management Conundrum

When Carlos Carrasco shut down the Tampa Bay Rays a couple weeks ago, it seemed as if he had shaken the yips that had haunted him in his two starts prior. He followed that Rays start up with a mediocre performance in Minnesota, in which he struck out nine but was the beneficiary of some fortunate sequencing early on. Though Carrasco was dominant to open the 2017 season, his last seven starts have been tumultuous; producing encouraging aspects and concerning trends alike.

Through the good and the bad, Carrasco’s ability to generate whiffs remains constant. His 12.8% swinging strike percentage ranked 10th in Major League Baseball heading into Tuesday night’s start against Boston. The Red Sox, as a team, do not whiff often. Their 8.7% swinging strike percentage ranks second in Major League Baseball, behind only the Houston Astros. Last night, Carrasco actually turned the Red Sox into a collective whiffing machine, including these two filthy punch-outs of Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts.

Twenty swinging strikes on 103 pitches (19.4% SwStr%) should be a recipe for success against the Red Sox. Anyone who actually viewed the traumatic events of Tuesday’s 9-1 loss to the Boston Red Sox can attest that the plethora of whiffs did not, in fact, produce success. The whiff parade got rained out by hard contact.

Of the 22 balls put in play by the Red Sox against Carrasco, half of them were hit 95 miles per hour or harder. Xander Bogaerts terrorized Cookie with two line drives of at least 103 miles per hour and Jackie Bradley Jr. dinged him up for a 100.1 mile per hour rocket over the center field fence.

103.1 mile per hour exit velocity on this Xander Bogaerts double in the 2nd inning.

108.1 mile per hour exit velocity on this Xander Bogaerts single in the 4th inning.

The contact management problem is not entirely new for Carrasco. Early in the season, he was avoiding hard contact about 75% of the time, which is above average. Lately, he has been anything but above average in that category. His 15 game rolling average shows us that he is only avoiding hard contact around 65% of the time over his most recent performances. This has manifested itself in Carrasco allowing 26 earned runs over his last 45.2 innings, despite eight shut out innings in Tampa.

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The spike in earned runs allowed reflects the spike in hard contact allowed pretty closely. Hitters could be picking up on Carrasco a little better, but there are a couple noticeable trends with his pitch mix, as well. Slider usage is trending up, while fastball usage is trending down.

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While Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer have found success increasing breaking ball usage, Carlos Carrasco has fallen victim to it, at least partially. While it is dangerous to make assumptions about the effect these minimal changes in pitch mix has on contact management, the data is enough to suggest that Carrasco and Callaway should at the least revisit their game plans.

According to pitch values over the course of his career, Carrasco’s slider has been his most effective pitch, with his fastball being the least effective. These values are heavily impacted by predictability, however. When behind in the count, batters are not guessing as often against Carrasco. Over the past three years, Carrasco has only thrown sliders around 3% of the time when behind in the count.
Boston hit four balls of at least 100 miles per hour and three of them came on fastballs while hitters were ahead or even in the count.

In order to veer away from predictability, Carrasco should rely on his best pitch a bit more when behind in the count. In previous years, Carrasco has demonstrated the ability to get hitters to chase pitches out of the zone, especially with his slider. Perhaps an extra walk or two is a worthy sacrifice to make if it prevents a hard hit ball.

As injuries continue to ravage the Tribe roster, it’s important for the healthy guys to produce to their potential. When October rolls around, the Indians will need to see a Carrasco that excels at generating whiffs and managing contact.