Written by: John Storey
Follow him on Twitter: @JohnStorey_
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Right now, the baseball world is fixated on Francisco Lindor, as it should be when a star of his caliber changes laundry. However, we can’t forget about Carlos Carrasco. He’s a huge part of this Mets – Cleveland swap. And one that I believe will, ultimately, be as big a piece as any in this deal.
First, and least importantly, Cookie has two guaranteed years remaining on his contract (signing with Cleveland for four years, $47M, before the 2019 season) with a potential third in the form of a vesting option in 2023. That’s at least twice as many years of control as Francisco Lindor. Even if Carrasco can sustain half of Lindor’s productivity or value he’s immediately as big a part of this blockbuster as Mr. Smile.
Entering his senior years, at 33, Carrasco has continued to provide consistently effective innings. Most recently, pitching in his 11th big league season, all in Cleveland, Carlos put up one of his best seasons. 2020 being Carrasco’s second consecutive shortened season. In 2019, he missed June through August after receiving a Leukemia diagnosis. Returning in September, Carrasco made 11 relief appearances to close out the season.
It would be fair to point out Carrasco’s less successful 2019, especially in contrast to other recent campaigns. But a Leukemia diagnosis should warren an exemption. Ignoring 2019, he’s pitched to a sub 4.00 ERA while producing at least 2.4 fWAR each season since 2014. That’s excellent consistency. So much so that Carrasco has collected the 11th most fWAR since 2014. He’s edged only by true aces, the likes of Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, Jacob DeGrom and Chris Sale.
As we progress deeper into Carrasco’s profile, his dominance across the better half of the last decade persists. Carlos’ 10.29 K/9 ranks 15th among starters since 2014. His BB/9 is also elite, 2.10, good for 24th among those same starters.
|Stat||Value||Rank (Among Starters, since 2014 Inc.)|
Those are historically great numbers. To provide some more context, Max Scherzer, Yu Darvish, Noah Syndergaard and Gerrit Cole are just a few of the names objectively worse (by xFIP) than Carlos Carrasco over that span.
A big part of the reason we’re unaware of Carrasco’s rein is the myriad of dominant, yet short-lived pitching talent in Cleveland. Every year, Carrasco has been pitched in the shadow of either Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, or most recently Shane Bieber. Each of whom came and went. Meanwhile, each year, Carrasco quietly put his head down and pitched at an elite level.
Carrasco provides an exciting opportunity to analyze a pitcher who truly does it all. Typically, such players make up the upper echelon of baseball talent. And the reality may be that Carrasco should be categorized in that basket. He just hasn’t received the attention or acclaim.
His rankings in the above table express just how well rounded a player he is. Allowing minimal walks while collecting excessive strikeouts is rare for a pitcher who seldom receives Cy Young votes. Moreover, Carlos’ ability to suppress base hits, let alone prevent what hits he does allow from scoring is equally impressive.
He deserves full credit for his career. His arsenal is designed to produce peak performance. His fastball, although a tick or two below what it used to be, remains impressive. Averaging 93.6 miles per hour in 2020 he ranks in the 57th percentile.
At age 33, Carrasco is bound to see his velocity dip, and between 2014 and 2018 that’s exactly what happened. However, in the last two seasons, he’s maintained a consistent velocity. Perhaps that’s a byproduct of tossing fewer innings (in which case, should his performance correlate highly to fastball velocity, one could make a very valid argument that Carrasco is bound for the bullpen).
Stepping back from his velocity’s trend, it’s more important to view his velocity with some context. He’s a 33-year-old pitcher. Again, likely amid some decline. So how does Carrasco’s velocity stack up against others in his cohort? In 2020, among starters aged 32 to 34 who threw at least 10 innings (a total of 25 arms), Carrasco’s fastball velocity ranked fourth. Opening the sample up to include years going back to 2000 (254 players) Carrasco ranks ninth.
Returning to the 2020 data, pitchers aged 32 to 34 averaged 91.67 miles per hour (median, 91.60). Carlos’ ranking at forth is even more impressive if you consider the three players who outrank him. Jacob deGrom (98.6), Yu Darvish (95.5) and Garret Richards (95.1). All of whom feature a fastball significantly faster than Carrasco’s (93.6). They’re almost outliers, outliers that don’t occur at the other tail of the data. In which case, Carrasco would lead all the normally distributed 32-34-year-old fastballs.
Carrasco’s changeup is likely his best pitch. He throws it at the bottom of the zone, unpredictably collecting a strike just half the time leading to piles of ground balls. Aside from the perfect placement of the pitch, it also attacks hitters with some of the most vertical movement in baseball. 35th most among 284 qualified changeups. As if that wasn’t enough, Carrasco pairs his changeup and fastball seamlessly. He tunnels the two pitches almost perfectly.
At release (spin-based movement), Carrasco’s fastball and changeup share an axis. However, by the time the pitch reaches the batter (observed total movement) the changeup has shifted its axis thanks to seam orientation and aerodynamics. Aside from their difference in pitch speed, this makes the two pitches virtually indistinguishable at the hitter’s decision point – but very different at the contact point.
Given the fastball doesn’t possess the same amount of movement (below average) as the changeup, nor does it carry elite or competitive velocity compared to the rest of baseball, Carrasco’s fastball does get hit harder. But the effectiveness of his changeup, his ability to mix the two pitches, and some expert command allows him to extract value out of his fastball.
Carrasco’s third pitch is his slider. Combined with his fastball and changeup, the three made up over 90% of his arsenal in 2020. The slider is an intriguing pitch for Carrasco. It’s a huge asset for him. In 2020, it produced a .272 xwOBA with a 36.7% whiff rate. The average 2807 rotations per minute Carrasco put on his slider in 2020 ranked 20th among 338 sliders. Although his sinker has typically played a significant role, Carrasco continued to lower its usage to an all-time low of 4.5% in 2020 and it may be effectively obsolete going forward.
Despite strong results, the slider only moved a little more than league average vertically (1.1 inches more than average) and a little less than league average horizontally (-0.6 inches less) last year. Admittedly, 2020 was a down year for the break on Carlos Carrasco’s slider. In the past, he’s shown he can do a little more vertically and a little less horizontally. But still, it’s difficult to chalk up the pitch’s strength to a pedestrian movement profile.
|2020 Sliders:||Velocity(miles per hour)||Vertical Movement(inches, vs average)||Horizontal Movement(inches, vs average)||xwOBA|
Yency Almonte, Kyle Gibson and Touki Toussaint’s sliders are baseball’s most similar to Carrasco’s. And they all garner different amounts of success. So it’s clear that Carrasco’s sider movement isn’t powering his success with the pitch.
Their release points may play a role. This is far from exhaustive or thorough, but it’s reasonable to wonder if Carrasco, Gibson and Almonte’s excellent job of collapsing all their pitches’ release points has led to better success with the slider. Toussaint, who was the only pitcher whose slider was hit especially hard, did seem to release his sliders from a different height than his fastball and curveball. But given he threw all three pitches from different heights that might be more of a Toussaint issue than something worth applying to Carrasco or anyone else.
|Fastball(release x, z)||Changeup(release x, z)||Curveball(release x, z)||Slider(release x, z)|
|Carlos Carrasco||(-1.48, 5.77)||(-1.50, 5.72)||(-1.42, 5.76)||(-1.55, 5.68)|
|Kyle Gibson||(-1.83, 6.57)||(-2.13, 6.38)||(-2.10, 6.44)||(-2.08, 6.41)|
|Touki Toussaint||(-2.49, 5.67)||—||(-2.23, 6.00)||(-2.54, 5.68)|
|Yency Almonte||(1.67, 5.76)||(-1.91, 5.62)||—||(-1.69, 5.79)|
Another consideration might be the spread of spin directions on Carrasco’s slider. His sliders have a 6-hour range of spin direction, with a generally uniform distribution. That might make it difficult for batters to study Carrasco’s slider, or ever really get comfortable with it. That being said, the comparatively larger gyro component of a typical slider’s total spin means 6 hours of spin axes has a less tangible impact on a slider than it would a fastball. Carrasco’s slider’s active spin is very normal, just 24.4% in 2020.
Most likely, it’s a combination of these factors that help make Carrasco’s slider great. And it’s important to remember that the movement he gets on the pitch is still very good. It’s just not elite. What he does to homogenize his pitches’ release points, tunnelling his pitches, setting up the slider with his fastball and changeup and the slider’s variety of spin directions are just some of the components potentially enhancing the pitch.
Ultimately, despite suggesting that the Mets inevitably see more value out of Carlos Carrasco than Francisco Lindor, I’ve avoided directly comparing the two. Lindor doesn’t need any more analysis. He’s great and we all know it. That’s also not meant to denounce Carlos Carrasco, who’s receiving his due. Folks realize he’s far from a side piece in this deal. Isolating Lindor’s contribution during a potential extension (anything beyond 2021), it’s very plausible, if not likely, that Carlos Carrasco, among the past decade’s most successful and consistent pitchers, contributes more to the Mets than their newly minted, all-star shortstop.
All data sourced from fangraphs.com, baseball-reference.com and baseballsavant.mlb.com.