Counting on Carrasco
Mike B. | On 19, Oct 2014
Today continues DTTWLN’s three week examination of the Indians’ 2014 season and where it fell short of the playoff expectations established last winter. The staff will examine where the season went wrong and the challenges the front office faces to make the Indians contenders in 2015.
Just when it seemed to finally be simple with Carlos Carrasco, it becomes complicated all over again.
Carrasco had his best year as a professional in 2014. The only remaining Major League piece of any Cliff Lee trade since 2008 finally found it after years of inconsistencies with control, injuries and confidence. Carrasco, “won” the fifth starter’s job out of Spring Training as much because he was out of options and could not return to Triple-A, as much as he out-pitched his opponents. After four poor starts, Carrasco was moved to the bullpen by the end of April.
But that’s where Carrasco solved his problems. According to him, he simplified his mechanics and his approach. Carrasco abandoned the windup and pitched solely from the stretch. Probably more importantly, Carrasco adopted the approach to enter a game pitching as hard as he could as soon as he entered the game. No longer did he rely on lesser pitches, trying to set hitters up for their second or third time through the batting order. Carrasco had a 2.30 ERA in 26 games and 43.0 innings pitched out of the bullpen. His 39 strike outs and nine walks were probably some of the eye-popping numbers that led the Indians to give him another chance in the starting rotation.
Allegedly, as the Indians’ rotation was still struggling and quickly running out of options, Carrasco made a plea to Indians manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway. Give him one more chance in the rotation.
Carrasco seems to have made the most of his last chance in the rotation. He made 10 starts in August and September, going 5-3 with an eye-popping 1.30 ERA. His 2-0 win on September 17 was his crowning jewel of his rotation rebirth, a complete game shutout of the Houston Astros, allowing just two hits and striking out 12 while tossing just 98 pitches. He lost his final two starts, but allowed just two runs in seven innings in each outing. The Indians offense let Carrasco down, leading to an undeserving loss. Of his 10 starts, only his September 12 start at Detroit was worthy of a defeat. Nine starts of two runs or less, out of 10 tries is quite a comeback for a pitcher who pitched his way out of the rotation just four months earlier.
Heading to 2015, Carrasco will man the top of the rotation with Cy Young candidate Corey Kluber. Each had breakout seasons, and if the Indians are to contend in 2015, they’ll be expected to shoulder a much bigger load than they were originally asked to carry in 2014. Carrasco—who has been an enigma since he was acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies in 2008—will have more responsibility than he’s ever been entrusted with in Cleveland.
Carrasco’s hard work and improvement is going to pay off in other ways, too, most notably, in his contract. Carrasco is arbitration-eligible for the first time this winter. His strong 2014 season will definitely garner him a raise from his league minimum salary, but the question will be how much. Carrasco and his representation will tout his strong relief and starting numbers. In the final two months of the year, Carrasco was the best starting pitcher in baseball. If the Indians were ever to reach arbitration with Carrasco, they would likely site his small sample size and history of inconsistency.
It’s likely the Indians and Carrasco will reach a contract agreement before going to arbitration. Their salary suggestions could be far apart, but each would stand to lose a lot if the other were victorious in the process. Likely, they’ll settle in the middle on a one-year deal. A year from now Carrasco’s value will be much easier to judge.
But one thing is certain, the Indians are counting on Carrasco for 2015. His 10 outstanding starts in the final two months overshadow the 10 starts made by Danny Salazar in 2013. Salazar regressed in 2014. If Carrasco were to do the same in 2015, the risk would be even more detrimental. Carrasco’s salary will be greater on the Indians’ budget and he’ll still be without any minor league options. He’ll have to solve his problems at the big league level.
If Carrasco can carry his 2014 performance into 2015, the Indians may have a value on their hands at any amount. It’s a risk the Indians have no choice but to take.
Counting on Carrasco, not as easy as it seems.
Photo: Getty Images