Luck and Suck: FanGraphs digs in on two Tribe pitchers

Corey Kluber

Corey Kluber

Small sample sizes rarely stop the crew over at FanGraphs—if anything, they thrive on them, helping hardcore fans understand why a player hasn’t exactly done what has been expected of him, either for the better or worse. Given the small sample size discussion from our own Jon earlier this week, the latest from FanGraphs falls right in line, discussing the merits (or lackthereof) of the struggles being exhibited by two of Cleveland’s own: Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco.

In a post titled “Buy Low on Corey Kluber,” Scott Spratt echoes much of what Steiner said, focusing solely on the stoic one and his 5.50 ERA.

Kluber’s 8.64 strikeouts and 1.62 walks per nine innings are in line with his 8.31 and 2.02 rates from last year when he carried a 3.85 ERA for the season. In fact, Kluber’s 3.31 FIP is almost identical to his 3.30 FIP from 2013. It stands to reason that his ERA will fall in line if he continues to pitch this way.

Kluber is not unusual as a victim of the small-sample madness of the first few weeks of the new season. However, I do think circumstances have conspired to make him particularly vulnerable, and those circumstances have just improved.

To date, only the Minnesota Twins have been worse defensively in the outfield than the Indians based on the combined Defensive Runs Saved totals of the three outfield positions. The Indians have lost eight runs in the outfield, and almost all of it has been the result of Nyjer Morgan and Michael Brantley in center field.

Spratt, in addition to luck and a .411 BABiP, believes that the addition of Michael Bourn alone should allow for the fly-ball happy Kluber to regain his relative success. While it seemed crazy a few days ago, the fact that Morgan has been tagged with a league-worst five runs to this point speaks volumes to his demotion. While the article doesn’t mention the loss of Drew Stubbs as well, it does appear that if Bourn can provide at least baseline levels of defense, the team will be that much more better off—regardless of what he does at the plate.

Regarding Carrasco, things appear to be a bit less luck-based and more, well, Carrasco-based.

It’s easy to point to his 3.51 SIERA, ridiculous .400 BABIP and 53.8% LOB% and claim he’ll enjoy better luck moving forward. Similarly, it’s also simple to call him a head case, perform no analysis whatsoever, and move on. But of course, I’m not going to do either of these things. With a repertoire that seemingly appears fantastic, why isn’t Carrasco the best pitcher in baseball?

The odd thing about the inflated BABIP is that he has a allowed an LD% of just 12.9%. Given that line drives go for hits most frequently of all the batted ball types, it’s a surprise that he has allowed so many hits when the majority of his balls in play are ground balls. […]

Although Carrasco’s fastball sits in the mid-90s and has touched as high as 96.7 mph this year and 98.1 mph historically, the pitch has been clobbered. He throws both a four-seamer and a two-seamer and both have been absolutely wretched. This year, the four-seamer, which he throws most often, has been hit to the tune of a .381 wOBA. While that’s terrible, that’s nothing compared to what hitters have done to his poor two-seamer.

Batters have quite enjoyed Carrasco’s two-seam fastball. How much you ask? Oh, just a delightful .761 wOBA. That’s not OPS, that’s wOBA. In OPS terms, it’s 1.811, including a .444 ISO and .667 batting average. Yeeesh. When you’re fastballs are that bad and you throw them a combined 60% of the time, no wonder why you’re getting blasted.

Fans have always loved Carrasco’s live arm—players who can get the ball up in the 90s are just fun to watch. That said, it’s intriguing that the best pitch for guy who can nearly hit triple-digits is actually his change-up. Carrasco simply can’t locate his heat. He touches 95 on the regular, but any major league baseball player can hit that when it’s served up over the middle of the plate, as Carlos has been thus far. Whether or not Mickey Callaway can coach Carrasco—and whether or not the pitcher can be coached—will be one huge storyline heading into May, especially with Trevor Bauer tossing yet another gem on Wednesday night1.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

  1. Six innings, no runs on five hits, striking out nine batters with just one walk. []
  • Pat Leonard

    The stats for Carrasco certainly tell the story that I’ve seen with my eyes. He can’t locate his fastballs and they’re resulting in either walks or hits. Sometimes you watch the location of pitches for a pitcher and the precision is there, but the accuracy is not. It makes you feel like a minor adjustment can help set them straight in the next outing (this is how I feel about how Masterson has pitched lately). Carrasco seems to have neither accuracy nor precision right now… He’ll throw a fastball to the outside corner and it’s a foot outside, then he’ll throw another one to the outside corner and it lands closer to the inside corner. If he has a 10-pitch battle with a hitter, it’ll look like scattered buckshot rather than an identifiable pattern.

    As for Nyjer Morgan giving up 5 runs in center field, that certainly helps paint the picture as to why he was sent down. I don’t know what exactly he did to give up 5 runs as he seemed to play adequately from all I could see, but it looks like Francona saw it the same way as Fangraphs. It’s nice to have Michael Bourn patrolling center field again!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I’ll make you stat boys happy and tell you I visited that Fan Graphs site this past week. I lasted a whole minute, no thanks!

  • mgbode

    While it seemed crazy a few days ago, the fact that Morgan has been tagged with a league-worst five runs to this point speaks volumes to his demotion

    thanks. this does help explain things as he certainly didn’t look good, but I wouldn’t have guessed he was that bad. of course, always tough to see on TV when they just cut to the OF late and don’t show the paths, etc.

  • mgbode
  • Steve

    I’m assuming the -5 runs is the bad part of the statistics side. It’s a sample size of 14 balls in his zone, of which he caught 10, which is way too small to garner much real knowledge from. Were those four actually catchable?

  • Pat Leonard

    Interesting… good question, that’s very hard to know for sure without being able to look at the game tape.

  • Steve

    Fangraphs does a lot of good things, and picks up a lot of data, but can frequently do something very non-sabermetric like assume that the data from such a small sample is good, especially when they look at fielding. They really love their internal fielding metrics, and definitely are too trusting of them.

    I’d agree that Morgan has been adequate. But Bourn will be better, and Kluber isn’t the only one who’ll benefit from seeing him back there. They’re turning into a flyball rotation, especially as soon as Bauer or Tomlin takes over for Carrasco.

  • Scott @ WFNY

    I think we often take fielding (and base-running, to a point) as just the thing you do, while batting is where the differences are made. Dead horse at this point given Jon’s excellent work about run prevention, but the Indians’ outfield was really, really good last year at prefenting runs—fly balls died, If Morgan wasn’t cutting it in the field (he wasn’t), it was an easier decision than we had originally thought.

  • mgbode

    though, if the decision was him or Elliot, then is Elliot any better in the OF? and, he’s not better at the plate. and I don’t believe on the basepaths.

  • Steve

    About the same on the bases and vs LHP, which is the only time either could possibly get to start.

    I know, I know, we’re not going to agree on this.

  • Pat Leonard

    It’s nice to have Bourn back in center field. I think one of my favorite things about listening to a Hammy broadcast is when there’s a long fly ball hit to center and Hammy’s voice sounds worried, and then he immediately calms down as he realizes Bourn is already there waiting to catch the ball.

  • Kildawg

    Elliot Johnson has much more experience playing more positions than Morgan (who’s pretty much limited to the OF). Positional flexibility usually wins out, even though it’s known that Johnson is a weak bat in the lineup (but a decent late-inning defensive replacement and PR for Giambi when he returns)