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June 17, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Carmona Considerations

by Marc Normandin

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Matt Swartz highlighted Ubaldo Jimenez today as one pitcher who was going to "fall" from his current level of performance in 2010. While Swartz concludes that Jimenez' drop won't be precipitous—he's still going to be great, just not like he's been—others in the majors are not so lucky, and will be forced to endure a much harder more forceful hammer of regression coming down on them. These are your classic sell high candidates, the guys you want to dump somewhere before they fall apart like an aging child star. Today we'll focus on one in particular that you can expect regression from, but it's a name you might be able to move based on past performance.

Fausto Carmona has posted an ERA of 3.23 thus far this year—given his last two seasonal ERAs were so ugly they could cause blindness to anyone who viewed them, saying 2010 has been encouraging is an understatement. Of course, Carmona wasn't as awful as his ERA said in 2008-2009, as his SIERA was 4.78 and 4.82, respectively (a difference of 0.66 runs from his ERA for the former, and 1.5 runs for the latter), but this year, he's dealing with the opposite problem. His SIERA is 4.59—not too far off from his production the past two seasons—which means he has been as lucky this year as he's been unlucky in the past.

Carmona has improved his strikeout to walk ratio—sort of. Last year he got it over 1.0, to 1.1, and he's at 1.4 now. Amongst starters with 75 innings pitched this year (there are 84 of them) Carmona's K/BB ranks the eighth worst.* He lowered his walk rate in order to achieve this, but also lost some strikeouts along the way—his already well-below league average K rate has dipped to 4.7 per nine, a realm we'll call "Jamie Moyer Territory". He's dropped his homer rate again, down to 0.6 per nine, but it's not because he's inducing more groundballs—he's at the same rate as last year, 55 percent, and his G/F has dropped to 1.8 from 2.0 (though the larger drop was from 2008 to 2009, when it fell from 2.9).

*Just for fun, three Indians starting pitchers are in the top 10 for worst K/BB, and Justin Masterson ranks #16. That's exactly what a team who ranks #23 in Defensive Efficiency needs from their starting pitchers, because they don't already have enough problems to contend with.

This drop has come from the same place Carmona's "success" has—his liner rate is at 13 percent, right around where he was in 2007 when he pitched so well for the Tribe. His BABIP reflects this at .258, as it's well under the league average, and also much lower than you would expect given the defense behind him. He hasn't changed much as far as how he is pitching—he's using his slider more and his change-up less—but hitters are doing things a bit differently with him. More contact is being made outside of the zone—a 10 percentage point increase from 2009—which may be how he's managed to get his liner rate to drop, as solid contact is not being made on those pitches. That's just hypothetical though, and isn't necessarily a guarantee for continued success even if he manages to pull it off all year.

Given his low strikeout rates, tendency to walk hitters in the past and the defense behind him, cutting ties with Carmona before his ERA implodes is a good idea. If you can move him for anything of use at all, do so, because once that ERA goes and the WHIP starts to climb, Carmona has little value in even the deepest leagues.

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