In this series, I will be taking a tour around the diamond for in-depth looks at players who I value differently than the market consensus. Expert ranking lists are not worth the paper they are printed on without analysis as to why players are ranked where they are. Since the featured players in this column will be guys who I value much differently than the mainstream, you may not agree with where I rank them, but it is still important to understand why I have them where they are. Sometimes alternative viewpoints can be more illuminating than group think, even if you do not agree with the opinion.
Love – Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland Indians
Before I begin to verbalize why I love Carlos Carrasco, take a look at the following two stat lines:
Which one do you think is better? You could make a case for either, but the point is that you would happily take either line for your fantasy team. Player A is Carlos Carrasco and player B is teammate and Cy Young winner Corey Kluber.
Do I have your attention yet?
This breakout was not completely out of nowhere. There were a couple of analysts who had it pegged. Now lets take a look at why Carrasco performed as well as he did and how likely he is to sustain it.
Changes in Approach
Prior to 2014, Carrasco threw his fastball nearly 60% of the time and his changeup was his most commonly used secondary pitch. He threw sliders and curves roughly 10% of the time, but both pitches were just used to keep hitters off-balance. When Carrasco was moved to the bullpen after his disastrous April, he began to really feature his devastating slider, which is easily his best pitch. Upon returning to the rotation, he continued his high slider rate.
At season’s end, Carrasco had thrown his fastball 56.7% of the time, his slider 22.1%, the changeup 12.3% and the curve only 8.8%. Since that slider had a swinging strike rate over 27% the last two seasons, I am buying the idea that Carrasco’s breakout was primarily due to skill improvement and change in approach.
Ks and BBs
Carrasco’s 4.93 K/BB rate from 2014 is elite and his 9.40 K/9 is good enough to be a frontline starter. Looking back at Carrasco’s history prior to 2014, he never really came anywhere near those numbers at any point in his professional career. Typically, Carrasco’s K/9 would hover around 7.5 with a BB/9 just under 3.0 and a K/BB around 2.50.
We have already talked about Carrasco’s increased slider usage as a reason for him to see a large spike in K’s, but there is one other factor. When Carrasco came back from Tommy John in 2013, his average fastball velocity spiked from 93 MPH to 95.1. In other words, given the additional velocity and the change in pitch mix, Carlos Carrasco is a completely different pitcher than he was prior to Tommy John surgery. For that reason, I think it is safe to ignore his minor league K rates when projecting the future.
As for the BB rates, Steamer has Carrasco projected at 2.61 BB/9 for 2015. That would be in line with his career totals. I do not think it is wise to project Carrasco to be quite as good as he was last season, but his change in approach seems to have helped his control also. Hitters have a very difficult time laying off the slider when it breaks outside the zone. Carrasco has enjoyed O-swing rates greater than 50% on his slider each of the past two seasons. It stands to reason that featuring a pitch that almost always results in a strike might help a pitcher’s walk rate too.
I expect Carrasco’s K and BB rates to be slightly worse in 2015 than they were in 2014, but I still think he will be good for a strikeout an inning and a K/BB rate greater than 4.0.
Batted Ball Profile
For his career, Carrasco has given up line drives less than 20% of the time, has had a ground ball rate above 50% and a fly ball rate under 30%. His 2014 ratios fell right in line with his career numbers, so we should expect the same moving forward. Because of the low fly ball rates, Carrasco is also fairly stingy with the long ball. He may give up more than .47 HR/9 in 2015, but he should still be better than most.
Carrasco’s BABIP of .274 in 2014 is significantly lower than his career numbers. Owners should expect some regression going forward, but it is also possible that some of the improvement here is skill based. Typically though, pitchers with low fly ball rates tend to have higher BABIP. I would project a mark closer to .300, but optimistically hope for better.
Carlos Carrasco opened the season in the rotation with very poor results. In 4 starts, he gave up 17 earned runs over 22 innings. Despite the terrible start, Carrasco was so dominant in his 10 2nd half starts that his overall ratios as a starter are actually better than his relief numbers were. Over 14 starts, Carrasco posted an ERA of 2.67 with a WHIP of .98, a K/9 of 9.99 and a K/BB of 5.05. His xFIP as a starter was an impressive 2.52.
Many pitchers can post spectacular ratios when they only have to go through the lineup once as a reliever. Starters can’t rely as much on their best two pitches because they have to face each hitter multiple times. Although it is a very small sample size, Carrasco has shown the ability to be just as dominant starting games as he was in the bullpen.
Carrasco missed all of 2012 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, but he has clearly made it all the way back. His high slider usage certainly puts him at risk for future injury, but I think we can get at least 2 more dominant years out of Carrasco before he breaks down again.
There is certainly some risk here, both due to the small sample size and injury, but the upside is well worth it. Carrasco is ranked by most in the SP4 range, yet he has the skills to be a legitimate fantasy ace. With some regression and perhaps an innings cap factored in, this is what I expect from Carrasco in 2015:
IP: 180, ERA: 2.85, WHIP: 1.10, K: 180, K/9: 9.00, K/BB: 4.00, Wins: 14
I believe these projections to be somewhat conservative, but you would clearly take them from an SP ranked outside the top 40 on most expert lists. Carrasco will surely be a buzzy name once draft season begins, but I still think there is substantial room for profit if he creeps into the SP top 30. If Carrasco can keep his velocity near 95, continue to limit the walks and stay healthy, he will be closer to an SP1 than an SP4. The breakout is legit.
Hate – Doug Fister, Washington Nationals
Despite pitching just 164 innings in 2014, Doug Fister’s first NL campaign was nothing less than a massive breakout. He finished the season as the 17th most valuable starting pitcher behind the strength of a 2.41 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 16 wins.
Many experts predicted a Fister breakout upon his arrival in the National League, but the way that he accomplished these outstanding numbers is a bit misleading. If you draft Fister expecting ace-like production in 2015, you will likely be disappointed.
Change in Approach
I am not going to get too deep into the percentages here, but Fister threw fewer off speed pitches and more sinkers than ever before in 2014. This change in approach seems to have impacted most of his peripheral stats. Whether or not these changes will be positive in the long-term remains to be seen, but it is hard to argue with Fister’s results in 2014.
Ks and BBs
Doug Fister has elite control and he enjoyed career bests in both BB/9 (1.32) and K/BB (4.08). So what is the problem, you ask?
The trouble is that Fister only struck out 14.8% of the batters he faced, which is his lowest K% since his rookie season. Fister has never been a big strikeout guy, but a K/9 of 5.38 is almost unplayable in K/9 leagues. To put this into perspective, If you combine Fister’s K totals with Aroldis Chapman who is coming off one of the most dominating strikeout seasons of all time, you would end up with a K/9 of just 8.42.
Fister had a swinging strike rate of just 6.1% in 2014 and his velocity dipped a little bit also. His K rate may bounce back a little bit in 2015, but unless he goes back to throwing more off speed pitches, owners should expect a K rate very similar to the one he delivered in 2014. Given how successful Fister was on the surface, I think his pitch to contact methods are likely here to stay.
Batted Ball Profile
Fister is a sinkerballer with a high ground ball rate. His 2014 ground ball rate of 48.9% is right in line with his career averages, even though it was lower than his last two seasons in Detroit. He also allowed a career low line drive rate (16.9%) and a large spike in fly ball rate (34.2%) which are not in line with his recent trends. Considering that Fister is featuring his sinkerball more and that he gives up more line drives than fly balls off of the sinker, the dip in line drive rate and corresponding increase in fly ball rate seem a little out-of-place.
Nonetheless, much of Fister’s 2014 success was due to a career low BABIP of .262. Considering his batted ball profile and his career BABIP of .292, I think fantasy owners would be foolish to expect anything better than a .285 BABIP in 2015. Fister’s 2014 batted ball luck resulted in about 15-20 fewer hits allowed than would have occurred with a BABIP in the .290 range.
Also consider that Doug Fister allowed 18 HRs in 2014 and a HR/9 of .99 which were career highs. I think he is likely to improve upon these numbers in 2015, but much of this HR spike is due to Fister’s increase in fly ball rate. His HR/FB rate for 2014 was still just 10.1% which is slightly above his career average, but right at the MLB average.
Fister’s FIP was 3.93, his xFIP was 3.85 and his SIERA was 3.93. You will almost never find such a huge gap between the actual ERA and the indicators. A lot of this difference can be attributed to the aforementioned BABIP, but Fister also had an 83.1% strand rate which is a full 10% higher than his career rate. For a pitcher who allowed .99 HR/9 and rarely strikes anyone out, that is a pretty ridiculous number.
Interestingly enough, despite Fister’s “breakout” he actually posted his highest FIP since 2009 and his highest xFIP since 2010. I do not think it would be wise to count on a repeat of his 2.41 ERA.
Fister missed the first 6 weeks of 2014 with elbow inflammation and a lat strain. He had gone over 200 innings in 2 of the 3 seasons prior to 2014 and over 160 innings in each of the last 5, so Fister is one of the more durable pitchers out there.
Doug Fister is a pitch to contact guy whose value is derived from his ratio stats and his win total. What happens though, if he comes back down to earth in 2015? We know he is not going help in the strikeout category and if his ERA and WHIP numbers fall back near where his skill indicators say they should be, you are looking at a line like this:
IP: 190, ERA: 3.40, WHIP 1.22, K/9: 5.50, Wins: 14
While those numbers are certainly solid, are they worth a pick before round 10? Do yourself a favor and pass on Fister. I can help you find pitcher capable of posting better lines off of the free agent list if you check my ace analysis column during the season.
If you play in points leagues or in a category league with weekly changes that does not count K/9, then Doug Fister is a viable SP4/5. If you play in a K/9 league or a roto league with innings limits, then you may be better off avoiding Fister all together.