Carlos Carrasco: Regression or Breakout for 2015 Tribe?

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Carrasco Looks to Feed Off Strong End to 2014

Carlos Carrasco began his 2014 campaign with the Cleveland Indians with a whimper and finished it with a bang. After being demoted to the bullpen early in the season due to poor performance, Carrasco worked with pitching coach and part-time magician Mickey Callaway to imitate the approach of Corey Kluber on the mound. 

In short, the goal was to aggressively pound the strike zone early in the count while utilizing Carrasco’s nasty slider to put guys away later in the count, much like Kluber does. It is no coincidence that both of their sliders rank highly in terms of whiff rate and overall effectiveness, as staff writer Nick Wheatley-Schaller examined. Ultimately, Carrasco’s fine tuning paid huge dividends, turning a 6.46 ERA in his first rotation stint into a 1.30 ERA over his final ten starts, featuring an even more impressive 2.16 xFIP.

It seems the biggest factors in Carrasco’s transformation were improved control and increased reliance on his breaking pitches, particularly that nasty slider. Per Fangraphs, Carrasco walked just 4.2% of batters in his second rotation stint after walking 9.2% the first time around. He also showed very little preference for any of his breaking pitches in his first set of starts, averaging roughly 12% with his slider and 15% with his curve and change. That changed drastically during his time in the bullpen and in his return to the rotation thereafter, as he threw his slider nearly 26% of the time, while his curve usage fell to 5%.

The result was a huge decline in BABIP and a dominant last two months of the season. Carrasco seemed confident, poised, and in control on the mound, a huge contrast to his previous stints in the rotation. He finally looked like the player the Indians coveted in the Cliff Lee deal.

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2015 is a huge year for Carrasco. He enters the Spring as the bonafide second starter in the Indians rotation behind Cy Kluber, and there is a lot of pressure on him to perform at the same level exhibited down the stretch in 2014. Many peg him as a breakout player of the year candidate, others think regression is likely given his poor performance in the past.

The reality is that Carrasco’s peripherals, including his stellar xFIP and SIERA, suggest the changes he made during his bullpen stint are sustainable. His fastball has real velocity, while his devastating slider and effective changeup are finally being used in the right proportions, with the curve taking a back seat. With Mickey Callaway at the helm and the full support of Terry Francona, his leash will be much longer than in the past.

Look for Carrasco to seize his opportunity to become a rotation mainstay and maintain the growth made last season. The changes he made, like the changes Kluber made before becoming a legit ace, are real and sustainable. Carrasco and Kluber should be a fantastic one-two punch for the 2015 Tribe, and they will need to be for the Indians to reach October again this season.

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