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Carlos Carrasco is pitching better than he ever has before

It's taken a while, but Carlos Carrasco finally looks like the pitcher we've wanted him to be.

David Banks

Carlos Carrasco was a highly rated prospect when the Indians acquired him as part of a package in exchange for Cliff Lee back in 2009, having placed in the top 60 of Baseball America's prospects during each of the three previous offseasons. He showed flashes of his potential in 2010 and 2011, when he was 23 and 24 years old, but never sustained it. Then elbow pain led to Tommy John surgery, and he missed the end of 2011 and all of 2012.

In 2013 he struggled mightily in the rotation, posting an ERA of 9.00 in seven starts, with few strikeouts and an OPS allowed of 1.005. He was eventually moved to the bullpen, where he performed much better (albeit in a sample of just 13.2 innings). He was given another chance to start at the beginning of this season, but again, the results weren't pretty. After just four starts, he was moved to the bullpen again, and again he had great success. In 26 appearances spanning 43 innings, Carrasco posted a 2.30 ERA as a reliever, with good peripherals.

It seemed liked the team had found the right role for him, as between 2013 and 2014 he had a 2.06 ERA out of the bullpen, putting him in the 90th percentile among pitchers with 40+ relief inning. A great reliever, isn't nearly as valuable as a great starter, or even a good starter, but it's something every team can use. With the starting rotation in shambles as August rolled around though, I surprised myself by siding with those who wanted Carrasco to be given another chance to start. (I won't pretend I thought he'd be a stud back in the rotation, but I thought he'd be better than what the team had going, and desperate times call for desperate measures)

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Editor's note: What follows is praise of Carlos Carrasco. Given this particular author's luck with writing good things about various Indians, such praise may be a bad idea. Such a stance is taken seriously at LGT, and consideration was given to declining to run this post. Should this writing prove to have the same apparent effect, further consideration will be given to moving the writer to the bad-news-only beat, and/or starting a Kickstarter to have him hired by Bless You Boys or Pinstripe Alley.

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Carrasco has been a stud since returning to the rotation, and it's been long enough now that I don't think it can be written off as small-sample noise or anything like that. In six starts Carrasco is yet to allow more than one run in any of them, and he's put up an ERA of 0.70 in 38.2 innings, with 42 strikeouts, only 4 walks, and zero home runs allowed. Oh my.

Carrasco's velocity went up when he moved into the bullpen. That's not especially surprising, as relievers know they'll be throwing 10-30 pitches when they take the mound, instead of targeting 90-110, and so they don't need to hold anything back. What is surprising is that Carrasco has not only maintained that increased velocity even after moving back into the rotation, he's actually added even a little more to it.

Here is the average velocity of each of his main pitches for his first stint as a starter this year, then as a reliever, and then in his return to the rotation (courtesy of Brooks Baseball):

Pitch Starter in April Reliever Starter in Aug/Sept
four-seam 94.7 96.7 97.3
sinker 93.3 95.6 95.8
change 88.1 89.2 89.9
slider 85.0 86.6 87.7
curve 80.2 82.6 82.7

Another difference is that since returning to the rotation, Carrasco has been relying on his four-seam less often, and also throwing his curveball less frequently, while throwing a sinker he rarely used before and also mixing in more sliders. Carrasco is also working lower in (and out of) the zone with his pitches, which helps to keep them from getting hit over the fence.

Carrasco's release point has also changed a lot as the season has gone by. He's now releasing the ball closer to first base than he was at the start of the year, and an inch or two closer to the ground. That's something Chad touched on in a post after Carrasco second game back as a starter, and it's a trend that has continued over the last three weeks.

The basic numbers we're used to looking at (like ERA, strikeouts, and walks) show that Carrasco has been worlds better as a starter at any point since his Tommy John surgery. The underlying measures that might explain a pitcher's results (such as velocity, location, and release point) show that Carrasco has made adjustments since the beginning of the year, and found ways to maintain those adjustments even as he's gone back to throwing 90-100 pitches per appearance instead of 15-25.

No one is as good over the long run as Carrasco has been during the last five weeks, but a stretch like he's having is large enough not to be though of as a fluke, and there's room for significant regression while still putting up numbers that would make Carrasco a very good pitcher, good enough to slot in behind Corey Kluber and give the Indians a great 1-2 punch in 2015.