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Okay, THIS could be the year Carlos Carrasco wins a Cy Young

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You can only be a dark horse so many times.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Cleveland Indians David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

My favorite Cleveland Indians tradition the last couple years has been the forecasting of a Cy Young for Carlos Carrasco. For three years now the Indians righty has been edging toward elite status held off only by freak injuries and a couple stinker starts. That’s how the luck of baseball goes.

When he’s on, Carrasco is one of the best pitchers in the game. The last good start by a Tribe pitcher in 2017 was by him, a scintillating 5.2 innings of no-decision pitching against the New York Yankees in the ALDS. It was the pitcher we hope for and at this point practically expect each time out. Could 2018 be the year Cookie finally gets his due?

It’s obviously hard sledding for any pitcher on a staff with Corey Kluber to get the attention Carrasco would need to get to win the Cy Young, especially if Kluber has anything resembling the 2.25 ERA, 2.50 FIP, 203.2 inning campaign of 2017. Were Carrasco to have a similar season to Kluber, the vote would split and someone else would win. So either by virtue of a less good season by Kluber or simple domination by Carrasco, only one Indian can be the man who the media flocks to.

That’s going to be hard. Kluber happens to have one of the best pitches in baseball in his slurve, and he’s throwing it more and more with each passing year. As hitters have to gear more and more for the fastball with ever-rising velocities, having great off-speed and breaking stuff makes a pitcher simply lethal. Kluber has taken plain advantage of this with that slurve, rated by FanGraphs pitch values as being worth 37.8 pitching runs, best in baseball and 17 runs better than second place Zack Godley.

Carrasco doesn’t have a pitch that is that good — nobody does. He is going to pitch differently than Kluber, having to mix what he throws more, but that doesn’t mean he has to throw more fastballs. His curve by pitch values is 16th in baseball at 7.1 pitching runs, his slider comes in at 12.3 pitching runs, also 16th in baseball. Though if you look at them by 100 pitches, he’s fourth with his slider, 2.12 pitching runs/100 pitches, and 12th with the curve at 1.43. Klubers’ curve comes in at 4.68 per 100. This is a good way to look at it, because the thing Carrasco needs to do is throw less fastballs.

Everyone is doing it:

Data courtesy Pitch Info via Rob McQuown at Baseball Prospectus, Vice Sports

Hitters hunt them, so pitchers need to mix, and throw their best pitches like Kluber or Scherzer or Kershaw do.

Since pitch value is a compiling stat, seeing how Carrasco’s pitches work per 100 makes sense here if we want him to throw more of things not fastball. Specifically, changeups. For every 100 he throws it is far and away his best pitch, and in fact the second most valuable changeup in baseball among those who threw at least 150 innings. His other offerings are no slouch, but the main idea here is laying off the fastball. This is a hard move for any pitcher since velocity is what gets you to the majors, and the fastball is usually your bread and butter.

Carrasco, whether due to outside influences or his own realizations, gets it:

This is a move in the right direction. Ideally he’d follow the trend Kluber did as the year wore on, where the curve (or slider, whatever) ended up being his primary offering.

Kluber did this as the year wore on:

From August 1st on, Kluber charted a 1.64 ERA, 2.54 FIP, and 27.5 percent soft contact rate, which over a whole season would be the best in baseball by three points. Topping Kluber’s own 24.4 percent. His strikeouts took a bit of a dip, but if you prorated the 89 innings he pitched in that stretch to a whole season it’s 296 innings. Kluber would have earned 10.8 fWAR in a season like that, or probably more if he actually pitched like he did in August and September for a whole year. That’s a WAR mark that hasn’t been hit since Zack Greinke in 2009.

Carrasco likewise started to get the message as the year wore on, though not with the change:

This is no knock on his slider, it’s a very good pitch. And it’s hard to throw a change a whole lot since i needs the fastball to work off. Once that fastball took a back seat though, Carrasco had his best month. In 42.2 September innings he had a season bests in ERA (1.48), season-best soft contact (24.5 percent), ground ball rate (48.1 percent), strikeout rate (31.1 percent), and walk rate (3.7 percent). It was a good month.

Whether he does it with the slider, the change, or the curve, Carrasco has the tools to get a Cy Young Award. The issue being, that great September he had where he threw more sliders than fastballs was worse than most of Kluber’s entire year, aside from the ERA. He also had a 2.51 FIP that month, a season best and right in line with Kluber’s season total. So yes, maybe this is the year, but if his own teammate performs in any way like he did in 2017 (and Chris Sale doesn’t fade in mid-August of course, and Luis Severino is merely very good) there is a window for Carrasco to nab the title. He’s already captured our hearts, why not a Cy Young?