There’s no doubt now that the Cleveland Indians will win the American League Central division and will be a key favorite as the team that could take down the defending champion Houston Astros. They’ve recently added Josh Donaldson to their already potent lineup, albeit in a controversial manner. Without question they will have one of the most dangerous lineups, currently ranked third in runs per game, sixth in OPS+, and fourth in total home runs, and Donaldson will only increase those averages.
Their bullpen is around average, maybe slightly below, ranked seventh in SIERA and 27th in FIP-, so there will be a huge reliance on their starting rotation to get the job done throughout the postseason. Their starting rotation is one of the best in baseball, second in SIERA, FIP-, first in ERA-, and third in xFIP-. Likely the only team with a better rotation is the Houston Astros.
Obviously Corey Kluber is gonna do Corey Kluber things and Trevor Bauer has proved he’s an elite pitcher by out-pitching Kluber, and we cannot forget what Mike Clevinger has done this year either. However, the Indians rotation wouldn’t be nearly what it is currently without the support Carlos Carrasco has given them since early June.
Let’s start off from the beginning of the season, from his first start on March 31st up to his 12th start on June 1st. He pitched pretty poorly, a 4.50 ERA, 3.95 FIP and 3.77 xFIP with a 23.4 percent strikeout rate. Early in the season it looked as though Carrasco had regressed significantly over what we were used to seeing.
From the sixth of June until the seventh of September we’ve seen much of the old Carrasco. During that stretch his ERA was 2.52, his FIP was 2.14 and his xFIP was down to 2.25 and his strikeout rate spiked up to 34.2 percent—basically a 360 degree turn in his performances as the table below shows.
|Stat||Before June 6th||Since June 6th|
|Stat||Before June 6th||Since June 6th|
There are a few significant things that has allowed Carrasco to reverse the negative numbers that he put up at the start of the season. Firstly, he didn’t really change any of his pitch usage by more than a few percentage points, so he’s still using the same arsenal, plus his overall wOBA changed by less than 20 points between the two stretches.
The major reason for his success is the large increase in strikeout rate which jumped almost 11 percent while he dropped his walk rate two percent. That partly stems from increasing his whiff rate by four percent. More specifically, his curveball whiff rate has increased astronomically, up almost ten percent. He did that by changing the way he used the curveball.
The first part of the season he threw a lot of curveballs in the strikezone, 33.5 percent to be exact. This lead to a .351 wOBA on pitches in the zone. In the second half Carrasco is now throwing the pitch along the edges and out of the zone 74.8 percent of the time, and it has resulted in a .195 wOBA against. The zone charts below illustrate how he adjusted where he was locating his curveball:
His slider, which he’s used about three percent less often the second part of the season, has also been adjusted as far as the location. He’s now placing it lower much more frequently which has done numbers for his whiff and strikeout rates. His whiff rate jumped eight percent and his strikeout rate on the slider went from 37.9 percent up to 53.3 percent just by changing how he located the pitch.
He’s done something similar with the changeup as well. By increasing his whiff rate around four percent on the pitch his is wOBA on the changeup went from .462 down to .130. The four-seam whiff rate has remained the same but batters are putting it in play about four percent less often. Only his two-seamer has regressed in terms of whiff rate, down from 7.9 percent to 2.7 percent.
Another big factor in his turnaround was the tunneling on the pitch;he has tightened that up to the extent that it really drove hitters’ chances of inflicting damage down.
The tunneling has had a huge effect on getting swings and misses as well as strikeouts.
Carlos Carrasco, 96mph Fastball and 86mph Slider, Overlay. pic.twitter.com/PzjVLoIK4V— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) August 23, 2018
Carlos Carrasco, 94mph Fastball and 83mph Curveball, Overlay. pic.twitter.com/NWcgEaU9mC— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) September 8, 2018
The trickle-down effect of the improved tunneling and pitch location has allowed him to increase his whiff rate and as a result improved his strikeout rate, while at the same time lowering his walk rate. This has culminated in completely different outcomes. Not only is this good news for Carrasco and his future as a veteran starter, but it’s also gives the Indians lots of hope to make that deep run and finally capture the World Series title. If there’s any chance of that happening, Carrasco will be one of the most important determining factors in whether that happens or not.