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August 25, 2014

The Buyer's Guide

Carlos Carrasco

by J.P. Breen

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Spring training in Arizona is close to perfection for me. I adore the various unique ballparks that only fill to half of their capacity, the infectious optimism that surrounds every team, the pristine weather, and the opportunity to submerge myself in nothing but baseball. Most of all, I enjoy the action on the backfields. There’s something great about watching dozens of young players playing a wonderful game, wearing jerseys without their names on the backs, and honing their craft in relative obscurity.

The real thrill, though, comes when some no-name guy jacks one 450 feet to straightaway center. Or when a random pitcher catches your eye because he’s popping triple digits with ease. It’s that moment in which you mutter, “Wow. Who the f--- is this guy?” and quickly start scribbling notes.

Those surprise moments don’t quickly fade away and are the reasons why you return to the backfields the very next morning. However, those moments are essentially non-existent at the major-league level. The insane amount of data available on players limits the possibility of being shocked by someone. When it happens, though, it similarly stands out.

It happened to me on Friday night. I was killing time, waiting for the Brewers game to begin at 7 p.m. CT. So I cycled through a few games before settling on the Astros and Indians. I ended up not watching the Brewers game because I couldn’t tear my eyes away from Carlos Carrasco.

Watch that clip. He’s straight up shoving. He’s sitting 96-98 mph on his fastball and touching 99 mph. His slider is 87-88 and getting plenty of swings-and-misses. I don’t know what I thought about Carrasco prior to this outing, but I tweeted this in the second inning:

It’s time to determine if that interest extends beyond his start on Friday evening. It’s also time to determine if fantasy owners should target him on the waiver wire and if dynasty owners should depend on him for future seasons. It’s what we do in this space every Monday.

Buckle up. We throwin’ heat. Let’s do this.

*****

Velocity isn’t everything, but it certainly grabs one’s attention. It increases the margin for error on the mound and can lead to an uptick in strikeouts. When a pitcher experiences improved velocity, fantasy owners take notice for good reason.

Carlos Carrasco isn’t throwing any harder than he was a month ago. He averaged 97.11 mph on his fastball on July 7 against the New York Yankees, and he averaged 97.72 mph on Friday against the Astros. The kicker: his outing versus the Yankees was out of the bullpen, while his latter performance came as a starter. Pitchers aren’t supposed to throw harder, or as hard, out of the bullpen, compared to when they’re a starter.

But compare his first four outings of the year, which were all as a starter, to his three starts since re-joining the rotation.

Date

FB Velo

Date

FB Velo

4/05

93.37

8/10

97.24

4/11

95.36

8/16

97.10

4/20

95.59

8/22

97.72

4/25

94.45

He’s bringing it on the mound as of late. Essentially, he’s carried over his reliever velocity, which was two-or-three mph higher than his starter velocity, to the starting rotation this month. He’s sustaining the higher velocity into the fifth and sixth innings and he’s carving up opponents. His last three starts: 18.0 IP, seven hits, one ER, two walks, and 17 strikeouts.

That's a pretty nasty stretch for a guy who’s only owned in 17.8 percent of ESPN leagues.

I don’t wish to dwell too much on a three-game sample; however, I’m intrigued by the notion that Carrasco could be transitioning his relief performance to the starting rotation. If that’s the case, we’re suddenly looking at an attractive package. In fact, he’d qualify for the elusive Holy Trinity that we discussed in my first piece at Baseball Prospectus. His 24.0 percent strikeout rate, 6.1 percent walk rate, and 54.0 percent ground-ball rate are all better than average. That’s what fantasy owners are looking for.

This entire exercise is working under the assumption that Carrasco can translate his performance as a reliever into the starting rotation, like we’ve seen the past three starts. Thus, I’m suggesting that a carryover in repertoire would allow us to take his full-season numbers and not have to worry about parsing the relief numbers from the starter numbers. Try this blind comparison:

K%

BB%

GB%

FB Velo

ERA

FIP

Carrasco

24.0%

6.1%

54.0%

96.21

3.14

3.00

Player A

24.2%

7.5%

50.9%

97.20

2.61

2.61

Carrasco sits rather well across the board in terms of the overall comparison, though his year-to-date velocity is a bit low. If we consider his most-recent starts, however, the velocities for the two pitchers would be closer.

Pitcher A is Garrett Richards.

It’s not a perfect comparison, as Richards has a better slider and Carrasco also uses a changeup and curveball, but it’s certainly something that grabs your attention. This is someone who has done everything one would want out of the bullpen. Now, that is being transitioned seamlessly into the rotation.

This isn’t simply a situation in which a bigger fastball is the end of the discussion. It’s better stuff from top to bottom. His swinging-strike rate has increased from 9.0 percent last year to 12.2 percent this year—and the right-hander only started seven games in 15 appearances, so that includes some work out of the bullpen. His contact rate has dropped from 82.4 percent a year ago to 74.3 percent this season. In essence, the velocity is up, the slider is crisper, the swinging-strike rate is up, and the walks are down.

Carlos Carrasco has been a completely different starter in the past three games than he ever has before. I’m not sure it’s fruitful to look at performance in previous years when the tools with which he’s working are not similar. Instead, the right-hander is throwing 97-99 mph in late August and has a fresh arm due to extensive bullpen work earlier in the season. That’s potentially golden for an owner’s championship run.

Buyer’s Advice: BUY
This is a risky buy because it’s based upon three starts. Normally, I would advocate waiting for another few starts to ensure this level of performance is indicative of future performance; however, it’s the end of August. Fantasy owners don’t have time to remain patient. This is somewhat reminiscent of the Jake Arrieta situation, in which owners had to take a chance that the breakout was “for real” to even have a chance on the waiver wire. There is no time to wait for the sample to become reliable. One can look at the numbers and wonder if they’re a fluke, but you can’t look at the heat he was dishing up on Friday and wonder if the numbers were a fluke. He dominated. At this point, it’s about determining if the stuff can hold up for the remainder of the year. If I’m an owner in need of talent in my starting rotation, I’m taking the chance that it can. Because if it can, I’m laughing to the bank.

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J.P. Breen is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see J.P.'s other articles. You can contact J.P. by clicking here

Related Content:  Fantasy,  Carlos Carrasco

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