Picking Up Fausto Carmona’s Option Was Right Move

Last week was a busy one for the Indians front office. Cleveland kicked off the offseason by declining Grady Sizemore‘s 2012 option. The team then pulled off a shocking trade for Derek Lowe in the same day, and this weekend lost free agent Jim Thome to the Phillies.

Meanwhile, another significant move the Tribe made has gone largely overlooked: exercising starting pitcher Fausto Carmona‘s $7 million 2012 option. Before last Monday the hype surrounding the Sizemore decision far exceeded the anticipation around Carmona’s, and the Lowe deal immediately took over the preceding moves’ news cycle.

It’s no surprise that the Carmona news got buried by the other stories. He’s still arbitration-eligible, so unlike Sizemore even if the Indians had declined his option he still likely would have remained with the team in 2012; unlike the Lowe deal, it wasn’t a surprise; and Carmona isn’t as big a name as either Sizemore or Lowe. But the decision still has important implications, and it’s worth taking the time to assess it.

It wasn’t a surprise to see the Indians exercise Carmona’s option, but that doesn’t mean it was a clear choice. He went 7-15 with a 5.25 ERA—crude as those statistics may be, it’s worth noting that he’s posted both a winning record and a sub-5.00 ERA only once in six seasons. Already a pitch-to-contact hitter, his 5.2 K/9 rate was even lower than his norm, and his 1.40 WHIP and 1.1 HR/9 rate weren’t very impressive either.

But there’s more to it than that. There’s good reason to believe Carmona’s struggles were largely the result of bad luck. His .291 BABIP wasn’t out of line with what we’ve come to expect, but his 62 percent strand rate was well below his career norm (68 percent), as was his 13 percent HR/FB rate (11 percent in his career). His 4.56 FIP and 4.17 xFIP (actually lower than it was in 2010, when he had a 3.77 ERA) tell a very different story than his 5.25 ERA, and the discrepancy between his ERA and his 4.18 SIERA was one of the biggest in baseball.

That isn’t to say that the discrepancy was all bad luck. Anyone who watched Carmona pitch this year knows that he got hit hard (the increased HR/FB rate wasn’t just a fluke) and that he seemed to have trouble making his pitches when he got into jams (hence the decreased strand rate).

But even if he wasn’t a true-talent low-4.00’s ERA guy, he’s still unlikely to underperform his peripherals this drastically in 2012. The reason: while he’s had similar seasons before—namely, 2006 and 2009—Carmona also has a history of outperforming his defense-neutral numbers. In 2007, when he was a serious candidate for the AL Cy Young, he backed up his 3.06 ERA with ERA estimators nearly a full run higher. And just last season, his SIERA was 55 points higher than his ERA.

Carmona’s career SIERA (4.34) is 25 points lower than his ERA (4.59), suggesting that his ERA will probably be worse than his DIPS numbers again in 2012. But, like Lowe, the difference in 2011 was much, much greater than the norm, so even if he won’t fully progress to his xFIP he’ll still almost certainly be better next year. It’s possible that Carmona became a kind of pitcher who consistently, drastically underperforms his peripherals in the last year, but after just one season it’s much more likely that this year was a fluke.

Still, another question remains: Why pick up Carmona’s option instead of letting him go through arbitration? Seven million is a lot to pay for a pitcher who will probably be below-average next year. It’s possible that he could surpass that as a third-year arb-eligible player on the strength of his 2007 and 2010 seasons and his durability, but it seems unlikely. So why pick up his option?

The answer is simple: his contract goes beyond 2012. The extension Carmona signed in 2008 includes team options for not just next year but 2013 (for $8 million) and 2014 ($12 million). If he can take his game to the next level (he’s only 27) or regain some semblance of his 2007 form then at least the 2013 option will be a huge bargain. The extra years add immense value to his deal (either as an Indian or as a trade chip), and they would have been lost had Cleveland declined his 2012 option.

Picking up Carmona’s option doesn’t warrant as much enthusiasm as the Lowe deal does, and either way the decision wouldn’t have meant as much to most Tribe fans as Sizemore’s. But to a contending team like the Indians, $7 million is a very reasonable price for a slightly below-average innings eater in his age-28 season, especially since he’s a former Cy Young candidate with and has team-friendly options for 2013 and 2014. It wasn’t a particularly glamorous move, but picking up Carmona’s option was definitely the right choice.

Was picking up Carmona's option the right move?

  • Yes (89%, 24 Votes)
  • No (11%, 3 Votes)

Total Voters: 27

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