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Indians 2013 in Review: Carlos Carrasco (Are his days as a starting pitcher over?)

No one still expects Carrasco to live up to the prospect status he held when he was the centerpiece of the Cliff Lee trade. Is it time to stop thinking of him as a potential MLB starter?

Joe Robbins

Carlos Carrasco

Right-handed pitcher

Age: 26

Acquired: traded from Philadelphia on July 29, 2009

Contract status: arbitration eligible for the first time

Carlos Carrasco was once a highly-rated prospect, he placed in the top 60 of Baseball America's rankings in 2007, 2008, and 2009, and was the centerpiece of the package the Indians received in return for Cliff Lee in July of 2009. In 2010 he pitched reasonably well for Triple-A Columbus and in 7 starts for the Tribe. In 2011 (spent mostly with the Indians), his strikeout rate fell, but through the end of June he carried a 3.54 ERA. He was hit hard over his next six starts though, allowing almost a run per inning, and in early August he was sent to the DL with elbow pain. Four weeks later, it was determined that Carrasco needed Tommy John surgery, and would miss all of 2012.

Carrasco was ready to pitch by the start of 2013, but he didn't win a spot in the rotation. Early-season health issues for a couple other pitchers gave Carlos the chance to start on April 9, but he gave up 7 runs and didn't survive the 4th inning. He then went to Columbus, and pitched very well for the next month and a half, striking out more than a batter an inning, with a 3.17 ERA.

He was called back up to the big league rotation in June, but in 5 starts lasting 25.1 innings, he allowed 22 earned runs while striking out just 13. What looked to be working in Triple-A was not getting it done at the MLB level, and at that point, Carrasco was sporting a 9.10 ERA for the year, which would have been the worst in franchise history by any pitcher with 25+ innings.

It was back to Triple-A, and again, Carrasco has success, striking out more than a batter an inning, with a 3.13 ERA in 5 games. The next time he was called up (in early August), it was to work out of the bullpen, and he promptly pitched 5 shutout innings of relief against the Angels. That earned him another start... in which he gave up 4 runs on 10 hits and was chased in the 5th inning. He made 7 more appearances after that, all as a reliever, and allowed only 2 runs in 8.2 innings.

Comparing his 2011 MLB numbers to those from 2013, we see Carrasco with an even lower K% and higher BB%, though neither change is massive (keeping in mind that the 2011 K-rate was a huge drop from his previous figures). You could point to his .364 BABIP this year as evidence he was simply unlucky, but you'd also have to acknowledge that he gave up far more line drives and ground balls than he used to, and those kinds of contact are more likely to become hits. His average fastball velocity was up, from 92.6 MPH in 2011 to 95.1 this year, but it doesn't seem to have been more effective. He's also throwing his curveball (which used to be his most effective pitch) far less than he used to.

What do we make of this, why was Carrasco successful while starting at Columbus, and out of the bullpen for Cleveland, but such a wreck as a starter for the Indians? It could be a sample size issue, or it could be that his stuff doesn't translate well against the superior competition he's obviously facing in MLB, not when he's facing batters more than once anyway.

Here's how MLB hitters fared against Carrasco this season, each time they faced him in a game:

Batting Average On-Base Percentage Slugging Percentage
1st PA .321 .365 .464
2nd PA .373 .403 .610
3rd PA .500 .564 .688

Even the first matchup doesn't look good for Carrasco, but everything after that is dramatically worse. A similar way of looking at it: Carrasco allowed an OPS of just .651 on his first 25 pitches in a game, of .717 on pitches 26-50, and of 1.301 on pitches 51-75. One trip through the lineup, 25-50 pitches...

I'm not sure what the Indians' plans for Carrasco are at this point, depending on what happens with free agency, the Indians may have a spot in the rotation up for grabs come Spring Training, and they may still view him as a candidate, but I think it's time to give up on the idea that Carlos Carrasco might be a successful Major League starter.

Year Age Tm Lg ERA G GS IP ERA+ WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2011 24 CLE AL 4.62 21 21 124.2 85 1.364 9.4 1.1 2.9 6.1 2.13
2013 26 CLE-min AAA 3.14 16 14 71.2 1.116 7.4 0.8 2.6 9.9 3.76
2013 26 CLE AL 6.75 15 7 46.2 56 1.757 12.3 0.8 3.5 5.8 1.67

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