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Carlos Carrasco is the best third starter in baseball

In the shadow of Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer lurks the best pitcher not on any awards list.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Minnesota Twins Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

It’s hard to imagine a more likeable person in the Indians clubhouse than Carlos Carrasco. Whether he’s stealing Andre Knott’s microphone, crafting baseballs that resemble teammates, or dressing up as Uncle Sam to celebrate his American citizenship, the man we know as Cookie is always up to something good.

Oh, he’s also humble and a studious player with a real appreciation for the game and those around him because of course he is.

It’s hard to imagine a world where this kind of character is not roundly celebrated all the time, but in a rotation with two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, fWAR- and Twitter-war–leader Trevor Bauer, as well as young studs Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber — well, maybe Carrasco doesn’t get as celebrated as he should.

So, join me as we take a moment to appreciate Cookie, the best number three starter in all of baseball.

Let’s begin with his most recent outing, where, despite a mildly bumpy first, Carrasco settled in quickly to provide seven innings of one-run ball, allowing three hits and walking none while striking out nine White Sox batters. His game score on Sunday was a 76, well above an “average” game (50), but not even his best against the White Sox this year. That came on June 11, when he threw seven scoreless and held the Sox to two hits while striking out 11 and walking just one, which was worth a game score of 83.

This year versus Chicago’s American League representative, Cookie has thrown 14 innings without allowing run. Even more impressively, he’s held Sox hitters to a line of .104/.140/.104. You’re not reading that wrong, the slugging percentage is the same as the batting average, because in 48 at-bats Carrasco has allowed just 5 hits, none better than a single. As a team, the White Sox have an OPS+ of -28 against him, or, in other words, 128 percent worse than league average.

Sure the White Sox may be objectively awful, but that should hardly detract from Cookie’s dominance. Particularly because he’s not only been dominant against those miserable Sox.

In three starts in August, Carrasco is 2-1 with a microscopic ERA of 1.74 from four runs allowed in 20.2 innings. He’s struck out 27 of the 79 batters he’s faced and walked just one. Since the All-Star break (five games), Cookie has struck out one-third of the batters he’s faced (43/130, 33.1 percent) but only walked four, a difference of 10 fold (4/130, 3.1 percent).

On the year, Cookie has held opposing hitters to an OPS+ of 88 and has struck out more than five times as many batters as he’s walked. Of the 551 batters he’s faced, 28.1% have struck out (12th among qualified starters) and only 4.9% have walked (eighth); only one other starter has a higher strikeout rate and lower walk rate (Justin Verlander, 33.3% and 4.5%, respectively).

What really makes Carrasco special, though, is the way he comes through in the clutch. To wit, he’s better on the road than at home (59 vs. 127 OPS+), in losses rather than wins (96 vs. 106 OPS+), with 0-2 rather than 6+ runs of support (67 vs. 98 OPS+), and against the heart of the order rather than the extremes (OPS+ vs. batters 1, 2, and 9 = 120, 117, and 171; OPS+ vs. batters 3, 4, and 5 = 81, 85, and 41, respectively). More simply: everything Cookie does on the mound gives this team a chance to win.

This kind of output ranks Cookie among the game’s best. By FanGraphs’ measure of WAR (which is arguably the best measure for pitchers because it relies more heavily on FIP), he’s 13th among qualified starters with 3.4 fWAR; by Baseball-Reference’s version , he’s 27th with 2.7 bWAR; and by Baseball Prospectus’s WARP he’s 30th with 2.67 WARP. Per FanGraphs, Cleveland’s top three starters (Bauer 5.9, Kluber 3.6, and Carrasco 3.4 fWAR) are the top trio in baseball: no pitching staff has even a number two starter higher on the WAR leaderboard than Carrasco (or Clevinger, who sits 15th with 3.0 fWAR).

You can quibble with the title of third starter for Cookie, as the Tribe depth chart would suggest he’s the number two guy, but by WAR and because he’s likely to start game three in any postseason series it seems accurate. And that’s okay, because, in my estimation (and perhaps FanGraphs’), there is no better person in all of baseball to start a game three.

He may not appear on Cy Young watch lists and he may not have flashy MLB Twitter graphics made featuring his smiling face, but Carlos Carrasco is the best third starter in all of baseball and one of the best pitchers in the game, full stop. May Cookie stay healthy and happy and pitching in Cleveland (or on the road in Cleveland gray) for many years.