Outside of personality, nearly any rotation mate could be lost behind two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber. Indeed, Carlos Carrasco’s quiet kindness and delicate decency are even lost behind the cyborg tendencies of Kluber’s calculated dominance. Lost among superlative performances from Kluber and MVP candidates Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor, was a stretch run of dominance from Carrasco which may have foreshadowed a 2018 Cy Young Award.
Of course, suggesting Carrasco will make the leap and win the Cy Young in 2018 is not, on the surface particularly bold, as he finished fourth in the award voting in 2017. Yet, with teammate Kluber and Boston filth-king Chris Sale, being the league’s best pitcher remains an immense challenge.
Carrasco’s surface level performance in 2017 was striking a 3.29 ERA, 3.10 FIP, 200 innings pitched, and 18 wins, if you care about such a measure. More, striking in the second half of the 2017 season, Carlos Carrasco was the best pitcher in baseball not named Corey Kluber.
While measured cumulatively, Carrasco was elite. He leaped forward in the second half posting perhaps the best 15-start period of his career. The basis for this leap, while massive in scope, was pretty simple: Carrasco used two of his best pitches more and his worst pitch less.
He, much like the rest of the Indians pitching staff, had a below-average fastball in terms of pitch value. As WFNY’s Michael Bode discovered: “The Indians starting pitchers had zero with a positive wFB/C (Kluber best at -0.17, though good for 36th among qualified 2017 SP). Carrasco next best at -0.76, good for 50th.”
For Carrasco, the fastball allowed an OPS against of 1.038 and his sinker was similarly poor with an OPS against of .916. Obviously, these offerings remain important because they create velocity and movement differentials that allow his dominant secondary offerings to play up but diminishing the frequency and creating a more proportional mix to further complicate a batters game theory decision making was valuable for Carrasco.
In the second half of 2017, Carrasco began throwing two offerings more frequently, slider and changeup.
In regard to Carrasco’s slider, the largest usage spike, it is an absolutely filthy offering with his changeup and curveball qualified offerings being similarly dominant. The OPS against? .421 with a strikeout percentage of 52.9 percent. 52.9!
It looks as scintillating as the data would suggest.
The changeup, well even more dominant, had an OPS against of .286! Even more interesting, a 77.8 percent ground ball rate on the offering, inducing nothing but soft contact and double play balls. It is easy to see why as he often succeeds burying it down to left-handed hitters.1
Carrasco was elite in the second half of the 2017 season and most of it relied on a large usage spike of his slider and a massive decrease in fastball usage. With his three plus secondary offerings; slider, changeup, and curveball, diminishing the use of his slider makes a ton of sense, and increasing the unpredictability of pitch use in certain counts.
Maintaining this pitch usage mix is a point of discussion in the arm health community. A study in the Journal of Shoulder and Elbow Surgery found that actually, pitchers with higher fastball usage rates had an increased risk of injury. A study in the American Journal of Sports Medicine found that “there were significant kinematic differences between the fastball and curveball but few kinetic differences.” Perhaps most importantly “the resultant joint loads were similar between the fastball and curveball, this study did not indicate that either pitch was more stressful or potentially dangerous for a collegiate pitcher.”2 Driveline baseball found that sliders create less arm stress than curveballs but still some of the most.
The reality being that there is still no answer, nor any ground for the assertion that throwing more sliders conclusively adds more stress to the arm than throwing a fastball. With that in mind, a continuation of Carrasco’s 2017 second slider usage makes sense.
Ostensibly, Carrasco has the arsenal to pitch like Kluber and now his usage rate is looking a lot like Kluber’s. The results following that reality.
If Carrasco carries this pitch usage change into the 2018 season he will have unlocked another level of performance, the new level being Cy Young Award Caliber starter.