Second Thoughts Game #23: Indians 1, Giants 5
In the top of the seventh inning, Lonnie Chisenhall pulled a pitch just foul – which given the contours of the right field wall, would have doubtless gone for a home run had it been fair. As the ball left the bat, it was as though an entire fanbase attempted to will the ball fair – not because of the impact it would have had on a 4-1 game, but merely because the scoring environment for the Indians on Friday was akin to making one's way through a haze – sparsely distributed hits over a wide area of time, none of them concentrated enough to decisively cut through.
A Chisenhall solo home run, at that point, felt like it would cut through that haze. For all the fanbase's willpower, however, the ball remained foul, and the haze persisted, leading to a 5-1 defeat to the San Francisco Giants.
Carrasco tries and fails to purchase a break
It's not clear what Karmic crime Carlos Carrasco has committed, but the whole weight of cosmic justice has come down upon his batting line this season. There are a handful of statistics – like strikeout rate, walk rate, and ground rate, that are considered wholly within a pitcher's control; because these three rates stabilize quite quickly and almost entirely rely on the pitcher's own behaviors, it is these three that are ideal in determining a pitcher's skill.
If one takes into account only these pitcher-dependent statistics, Carrasco has been an entirely palatable #5 pitcher – through the end of Friday's game, Carrasco has recorded a 9.41 K/9 (far better than the 7.74 league average for starters), 3.68 BB/9 (worse than the 2.88 starter league average rate), and 54.0% Ground Ball rate (far better than the 46.0% average). On the aggregate, these stats yield a portrait of Carrasco suggesting he is an average-to-above-average starter in those matters where a pitcher actually has control.
However, as Jason Kipnis is quick to remind us, a great many pitching statistics are not pitcher-dependent. ERA, or that which is typically used to determine pitcher effectiveness, is based not only on pitcher-dependent metrics, but on how frequently batted balls go for hits, the order within which walks/hits occur (clumped hits lead to runs; evenly distributed hits don't – which was something of a problem for the Indians on Friday), and the rate at which fly balls become home runs – these three statistics are either defense-dependent or luck-based, and are quantified as Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP), Left-on-Base Rate, and HR/FB%.
Going into Friday's game, Carrasco's HR/FB% was better than league average – the singular bastion of good luck for this pitcher, as his BABIP and LOB% have been thoroughly grim. At .383, his BABIP was twelfth-highest among starters with 15+ IP (league average is .296); at 54.4%, his Strand Rate is second worst (league average 72.9%). Carlos Carrasco, clearly, has incurred some grave debt with baseball's higher powers to have been cursed with such horrible luck.
Yet Friday night's poor luck decided to change the game – instead of BABIP and LOB% being Carrasco's two forlorn pitcher-independent statistics, LOB% and HR/FB ratio were his enemies on this night. Carrasco's .267 BABIP on the night was actually a minor stroke of good luck – which luck prompted the author to ask whether it was Carrasco pitching or Aaron Harang Thrice-Blessed who ascended the Montagne d'Pitch on this night.
As if to assuage the author's genuine concern, Carrasco's LOB% and HR/FB% rate offered confirmation that Carrasco, summoner of rainclouds and veritable Eeyore, was pitching. Carrasco's HR/FB rate, at 14.3%, was notostentatiously higher than average – there are only so many fly balls that Carrasco's going to allow in a game, and some of them are going to go for home runs. Some games are going to have outsized HR/FB ratios. At 43.5%, however, Carrasco's LOB% was not merely abysmal but also extremely comical. As has been mentioned, 72.9% is the league average – a pitcher with a rate as low as 65% over the course of a season is considered quite unlucky. 43.5% is a number so low that it exists in its own strange hundred-acre woods.
On the game, Carlos Carrasco had an ERA of 6.00 in a 6 K, 1 BB effort. At no point this season may a clearer articulation of the folly and limitations of ERA as a metric present itself.
Quo Vadis, Gopher?
“Whither wandrest the gopher ball?” a most pondrous baseball fan opines. A quick analysis of the box score notes that the Indians had nine baserunners to the Giants' eight, yet scored a fifth of the runs. Is the aforementioned LOB% issue a noteworthy consideration? Certainly; Carrasco allowed seven baserunners, four of whom scored; the Indians had nine baserunners, one of whom scored.
A major contributing factor to high offensive strand rates is the scarcity of the home run. It's been granted as a premise that the 2014 season is a uniquely low run-scoring environment; however, the Indians' 2014 home run totals are tied for 12th in the AL. Home Runs and strand rates are intimately connected, and there is little to no power currently in the Indians line-up – Kipnis's 2013 power, the author has argued, was illusory, and Santana has not yet found himself at the plate. In many ways, this lack of power aligns with the Indians' talent acquisition philosophy; power is a trait for which a great premium is paid. Given that they need to subvert the market, they take either need to develop power from within, pass on power altogether, or take risks on players like Ryan Raburn andYan Gomes – players who have power potential but an extremely flimsy offensive floor.
Base hits are better than non-base-hits. This is conceded. But in the case of the Indians offense, an occasional exclamation mark would make the otherwise solid walk and strikeout rates a good deal more exciting.
For the remaining Indians' starters, these exclamation points would also give the run support necessary to be the focus, not of blurbs explaining how a pitcher is better than his Win-Loss record, but of actual game recaps showing that the pitcher mastering those things within his control actually does put the team in a solid position to win.
Carlos Carrasco, one imagines, would take a start like that one of these days.
John can be reached on Twitter at @JHGrimm. He can also be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Agree with you here. If Carrasco is still struggling come mid-May then definitely think you could see a change.
We've mentioned this on the site too but if Bauer is kept down til Mid-May, you gain an extra year of control out of him....mid-May would be about 40 or so games (little more) for Carrasco...
Hirametrics, let's get on board that train-wreck
Thank you for objective, fair, open minded analysis on Carrasco . I think the guy is getting better and can pitch as a starter at this level.
I think the Indians are committed to seeing whether he can fly as a starter, and I don't think they'll have a really good feel for whether he is or not for another month. In all likelihood, he'll probably get until the end of May before the Indians decide to keep him in the rotation or move him to the bullpen.
Keep in mind that the offense' consistent lack of production isn't helping matters; you're not going to win many games scoring 1-3 runs, even if you had the Danny Salazar of last year pitching. It would help if this offense finally got on track and started scoring some consistent runs. They keep hitting like they're facing Justin Verlander or Felix Hernandez every night, and they haven't faced a pitcher of that caliber in this series, yet have scored four total runs, an average of 2 per game. You're not going to win many games regardless of who is on the mound with a scoring average like that.
Bottom line: Carrasco isn't pitching THAT badly, it's not surprising he's struggling a bit because he is inexperienced, and the offense is still struggling to find any consistency, which is going to make the pitching look worse than it actually is. Allowing four runs in 6 IP from your five starter isn't bad- there's room for improvement, but that's not the biggest issue on this ballclub or even in the rotation,not by a long shot.
Thus, I think this is a major reason why the Indians are not willing to give up on him as a starter yet, nor why it's not out of the question why he could still be a capable starter at the ML level.
Take Homer Bailey, who has 148 games of ML experience, nearly three times as much as Carrasco, and he's been one who has great stuff, but largely, not great results throughout most of his career. Bailey, again, is not delivering great results so far in 2014, only dominating the weak Cubs, while getting rocked in his other three starts. And, Carrasco out pitched him last night (6 IP, 4 R vs. 6 IP, 5 R, and Bailey gave those up in the first three innings, whereas Carrasco's was more toward the middle innings).
Case in point, whereas you would think that Carrasco has as much experience as, say, Bailey, he has 1/3 of that. If Carrasco had as much experience as Bailey and was still that erratic (as Bailey is, never mind the fact Bailey is getting between $13-18M/year for the next six years), then I'd be more willing to end the starter experiment and be frustrated with Carrasco, but truth be told, he's not that experienced, and outside of 2011 when he had that great month of June, he hasn't been able to stay in the rotation for any length of time.
He's never going to be able to establish himself as a starter if he isn't given a chance to adapt, and four starts in 2014 is hardly enough time for anyone to get into a good groove. Masterson certainly wasn't in a good groove after four starts, and he has a lot more experience than Carrasco.
Hope the pain isn't too long..
I'm not so sure we can just call Carrasco "unlucky", move on and expect him to get materially better. This seems to be somewhat or a recurring pattern. Perhaps Carrasco's "strand rate" sucks because he can't pitch out of the stretch, or perhaps he gets nervous in those situations and can't handle it. I remember in 2011 when Carrasco was starting full-time, Keith Law said something to the effect of Carrasco not being mentally tough, or he's got an inability to handle adversity. That was the book on him then, and I'm not sure things have changed.
I still kind of like Carrasco (I prefer Bauer) but I think the Indians need to see what they really have in him before they cast him off to the pen. However, I think we're going to be calling Carlos Carrasco "unlucky" for years to come because this is basically what he's always been for reasons that I believe are unquantifiable. That being said, I expect his ERA to fall from 6.95 but I think Carlos Carrasco is going to continue to be a champion of secondary statistics but not get the end results he needs to.