Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 59 – Carlos Carrasco
Bob Toth | On 28, Jan 2019
Major League Baseball will kick off the 2019 season with its earliest start ever (excluding international openers) as all 30 teams will take the field on March 28. Follow along with Did The Tribe Win Last Night as we count down the days until Opening Day 2019. – BT
Countdown to Opening Day – 59 days
It has been a long, uphill battle for Carlos Carrasco to climb over the course of his professional career, but he has evolved over time and cemented himself as one of the better starters in the American League while helping to anchor a dynamite starting rotation for the Cleveland Indians. For those efforts, he and the team came to agreement this winter on a contract extension (on his already team-friendly pact) that locked him up with the Tribe through at least the 2022 season, with an option for one more year after that.
Carrasco will earn a total of $47 million from 2019 to 2022, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal last Thursday (he is slated to make $9.75 million this season, $10.25 million in 2020, and $12 million in each of the 2021 and 2022 seasons with a $3 million buyout of his $14 million team option for 2023). While it added marginally to the Indians’ present and future payroll commitments after the team spent all offseason shedding salary like unwanted weight, Carrasco’s steady and almost predictable performances over the last four years since returning to regular duty in the starting rotation make his new extension a steal for the cost-conscious Tribe.
While two other pitchers from the starting staff – Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer – saw their names come up frequently over the first few months of the offseason in trade rumors, Carrasco’s name was quickly taken off of the table with his December extension as the team committed to build around him. And that choice seems sound, given that the 31-year-old Venezuelan has overcome Tommy John surgery, heart issues, being a perpetual target for line drives, and a demotion to the bullpen back in 2014 that left his status as a Major League caliber starter hanging in the balance.
Carrasco returned from his brief relief role, changing his approach on the mound (eliminating the windup from his pre-pitch routine) while listening closely to the guidance coming from the minds of pitching coach Mickey Callaway and bullpen coach Kevin Cash, both well respected voices in the game who have since left the Indians organization for managerial opportunities with the Mets and Rays, respectively.
Including his final ten starts of that ’14 campaign, Carrasco has rewarded the team with a 65-39 record in 129 games (127 starts) with eight complete games, three shutouts, a 3.22 ERA, a 1.08 WHIP, and 901 strikeouts in 791 innings of work (a strikeout rate of 10.25 per nine innings).
Last season, Carrasco topped the 30-start mark for the third time in the last four years. He went 17-10 with a 3.38 ERA while leading baseball with a pair of complete games hurled. He finished just eight innings short of reaching 200 innings for the second time in his career, and he topped the club with 231 strikeouts with a career-best 10.8 K/9 rate. He added his best FIP since 2015 with a 2.94 mark and his 1.13 WHIP was more than respectable.
Carrasco may have been left out of the Cy Young voting last season, but he received plenty of credit the year before, when he led the Majors with 18 wins and finished four in the American League’s voting with the award going to teammate Kluber for the second time. Carrasco struck out 226 batters that season in 200 innings of work with a 3.29 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP. His overall numbers equated to the fourth-best win total, strikeout total, and FIP; sixth-best WHIP and strikeouts per nine; sixth-lowest walks per nine rate; eighth-best ERA; and ninth-highest innings pitched total.
It all marks a remarkable turnaround for one of the pieces that came to Cleveland in the Cliff Lee trade with the Philadelphia Phillies midway through the 2009 campaign. After struggling to find it in the Majors in the early stages of his Indians career while under a microscope with heavy expectations on him after being deemed the most likely to succeed long term from the Lee deal, Carrasco has found his place on the mound, trimming down excess runners allowed via free pass and base hit while increasing his effectiveness with a dramatically improved strikeout rate.
Through his first five big league seasons and 88 games, opposing hitters owned a .267/.321/.410 slash against him, but over the last four years and 119 games, those marks have plummeted to a .235/.284/.389 line.
Carrasco will be the present and the future for the Tribe’s rotation as he enjoys the prime years of his career in his preferred home in Cleveland. With Bauer eligible for free agency following the 2020 season and Kluber secured through 2019 with a pair of option seasons to follow, Carrasco will be counted on to lead a pitching staff that will call upon the younger members of the squad and names on the horizon (Mike Clevinger, Shane Bieber, Adam Plutko, and top prospect Triston McKenzie) to keep costs low, but productivity from the strength of the club high. With question marks around the roster (especially regarding the outfield and bullpen options), the Indians will call upon those members of the starting staff to keep the team in games while carrying a heavy workload.
Carrasco has easily pitched himself into the title as the most productive 59 in Tribe history on a short list of players almost entirely composed of pitchers. Others to do so in Cleveland include Kevin Bearse (1990), Jim Thome (1991), Albie Lopez (1993-97), Jason Rakers (1998-99), Mark Watson (2000), Alan Newman (2000), Jason Phillips (2002-03), Alex Herrera (2003), Guillermo Mota (2006), Matt Miller (2004-07), and Jon Meloan (2008). Carrasco’s career bWAR of 20.45 in the number 59 is just short of Ismael Valdez’s career mark of 20.7 (split over 1994 to 2001 and 2004, when he wore the digits for the Dodgers, Cubs, Angels, and Padres) as the top mark among all 59’s in MLB history.
Photo: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
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