On April 7, one day before he made his first start of the regular season, Carlos Carrasco signed a contract worth a guaranteed $22.67M. Compared to what David Price (who is just 15 months older than Carlos) will sign for this winter, the deal will seem small. But for Carrasco, who for the previous couple years had teetered on the precipice of "major-league pitcher," the deal had to have come as a giant relief. As late as May 2014 his prospects, at least with the Indians, looked very dim. He was moved to the bullpen after an awful month of April, and was perhaps a couple bad weeks away from being on the waiver wire. Someone would have taken a chance on him of course, but perhaps as a reliever only. And today's dominant pitcher often turns into next year's NRI, and then the year after that he's pitching for somebody's AA team, or worse, on a minor-league DL. I guess what I'm trying to say is that success is never a guarantee in baseball, even for the most talented players. Those starts in August and September of 2014 meant that not only would Carrasco stay with the Indians, but be one of their best players.
Or so we know now. One week after signing that contract, he was struck in the face by a line drive. Thankfully the ball struck him in the jaw, and not any higher, and he would return to action a week later. And thankfully he showed no ill effects from the injury, looking as good as he did in late 2014. His fastball remained in the high 90s, and a deadly duo of ~90 mph offspeed pitches, shown here in all their glory:
When Carrasco had those offspeed pitches diving down, he was dominant. He was one pitch away from throwing a no-hitter in Tampa on July 1 (striking out 13 in the process). He threw a one-hitter on August 4 against the Angels. He struck out 15 Royals in a one-hitter on September 25. Despite missing several weeks in late August/early September with a sore shoulder, he struck out 216 batters, which was 5th in the AL. His SO/BB ratio ranked 3rd in the AL (behind Chris Sale and teammate Corey Kluber). Carlos Carrasco was one of the 10 best pitchers in the AL, and that's probably being a bit conservative.
One of the more interesting stats regarding Carrasco was that his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) was .8 of a run lower than his actual ERA (3.63 vs 2.82). The reason it's interesting is that you'd think Carrasco wouldn't be as prone to be affected by his defense because he was so good at preventing contact. Another (related) amazing stat is that in 183.2 innings pitched, he allowed a grand total of 1 unearned run. And of course that unearned run came as a result of a Francisco Lindor throwing error on September 19. So during all those months when the Indians fielded horrific defenses, Carrasco managed to pick up that defense.
As mentioned above, Carrasco missed time twice in 2015: after the line drive scare in April, and in late August with shoulder soreness. It's always concerning any time a pitcher's throwing shoulder hurts, but this was the first time Carrasco had thrown 180+ innings at the major-league level, and he did return in September to finish out the season.
The contract Carrasco signed before the season made him among the most valuable trading chips in baseball. He was mentioned heavily in the runup to the July trading deadline, and will undoubtedly be mentioned throughout the winter as targets for those teams who miss out on the big pitching free agents. The Indians needed to upgrade their offense even more Michael Brantley's shoulder surgery, and one way of doing that would involve trading one of their starting pitchers. Still, what makes Carrasco valuable in the eyes of other teams makes him just as valuable to his current club. The Indians have themselves one of the best pitchers in baseball, and a pitcher that is under team control through the 2020 season.