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Tribe Happenings: How much longer on Carrasco?

Tribe Happenings: How much longer on Carrasco?
Carlos Carrasco (Photo: AP)
April 28, 2014
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Some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Put up or shut up time for Carrasco

While the Indians underwhelming 11-14 record to date through 25 games may be the biggest concern at the moment, one of the hottest topics with regard to the team is the starting rotation and more specifically how much longer the Indians should stick with Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco.

I touched on this issue last week with Salazar and Carrasco, but after Salazar’s strong outing on Sunday where he went seven innings and allowed one run on five hits and one walk and had eight strikeouts, it is safe to say that the proverbial ball is now in Carrasco’s court.  Salazar still has to show some consistency and carry over that performance into his next few outings to be out of the woods, but for now the target reticle is squarely on Carrasco as the weakest link in the rotation and the first option to be replaced.

Carrasco, 27, is now 0-3 with a 6.95 ERA in four starts this season, and in his career as a starting pitcher is 10-22 with a 5.66 ERA in 44 starts. His last outing on Friday was encouraging in that he went at least six innings for the first time this season (just like Salazar on Sunday) and continues to show some interesting peripheral numbers, but in the end the results were not there as he allowed four runs and took the loss.

The Indians are in an interesting quandary with Carrasco. On one hand you have a very talented pitcher who for whatever reason struggles as a starter and has yet to put it all together. His start on Friday was definitely encouraging as he struck out a batter an inning, had only one walk, gave up less than a hit an inning and pitched deep into the game. His advanced stats are solid to very good as 3.67 FIP, 9.4 K/9 and a solid 3.7 BB/9. Those are very interesting stats for a guy who is your fifth starter and one that typically bears a longer look.

But Carrasco is still showing little progress in the areas that have plagued him in the past as he is having trouble repeating the mechanics that the Indians had him work on all offseason and spring training. He was renowned in the minor leagues as a guy with exceptional stuff but someone who was mentally soft and had a hard time keeping runners on the basepaths from scoring, and so far this season he has lived up to that billing.

Also, if Carrasco has not gotten the mechanical adjustment by now after months of work, when will he? He’s been working on it for five to six months and all throughout spring training and the first month of the season, yet there appears to be little progress in that regard. The stuff over the weekend with him and the Indians not being on the same page with his delivery adjustments only heightens the issue to me and leaves me with little confidence that the delivery adjustment is eventually going to work. If it does, then great, but I do not have any confidence based on what has happened in the past and what is happening now that he is going to finally put it all together and become a good starting pitcher.

Contrary to what has been said after his last start, Carrasco has really shown little if any progress this season. Four runs an outing is four runs an outing no matter how you slice it. A team can’t consistently win if a starting pitcher is allowing at least four runs every time he takes his turn in the rotation, even if they are going six innings. Remember, too, that his outing on Friday was in a National League city with the pitcher batting.

Also, bear in mind that a league average starter in the American League has a 4.15 ERA. Ten years ago in 2004 a league average American League starting pitcher had a 4.85 ERA, so it is important to keep in mind what a good ERA is these days when looking at Carrasco’s performance. While there are better means to prove a pitcher’s effectiveness, ERA is the one most commonly known and one generally accepted by everyone.

Right now, based on performance alone, Carrasco is just nowhere near even being an average Major League starting pitcher. Several years ago when offense was king and PEDs were prevalent in the game, if a pitcher went six innings and gave up just four runs you would take that – especially from your fifth starter. But nowadays it is just a different game as pitching is now the dominant force in the game. American League teams are averaging 4.36 runs a game this year whereas 10 years ago they averaged 5.01 runs a game – about 136 less runs scored over the course of a season. Going six innings and allowing four runs is no longer satisfactory from even a fifth starter.

Now, that having been said, it is still a little too early to pull the plug on Carrasco as a starting pitcher. To yank him out now after just four starts into the season would not make a lot of sense, especially since the Indians named him the winner in the fifth starter derby this spring and let a guy like Aaron Harang (3-1, 0.85 ERA, 5 starts) walk away for nothing. Whether they made a right or wrong call, they made the decision to start Carrasco so now they have to see it through. I get that and am 100% on board with continuing on with him in the rotation – in the short term.

But whatever slack Carrasco may have had as a starter should be all but gone now. The noose is tight around him and that final spot in the rotation, and it is time for him to put forth some genuinely good outings starting with his next outing. If not, then it is time to consider a change in the rotation.

Right now Trevor Bauer is as hot as any pitcher in the minors and might be the spark this team needs on the pitching staff. In five combined starts between the Indians (one start) and Triple-A Columbus (four starts) he is 3-1 with a 1.42 ERA, and in 31.2 innings has allowed just 22 hits and 9 walks while striking out 36 batters. He has pitched at least six innings in every outing and has allowed no more than two runs in any outing.

Right now Bauer is the anti-Carrasco. Both are very talented pitchers with frontline stuff, but while Carrasco is struggling to find consistency and still working through some things to try and get it, Bauer has taken to his offseason mechanical changes well and is pitching lights out and producing. Ultimately, at the Major League level all that matters is wins and losses, and based on how the two have pitched to date Bauer deserves to be – and should be - in the rotation right now more than Carrasco.

Two things are in play which have delayed that change and are a reason why Carrasco beat out Bauer in the first place this spring. The first of course is Carrasco is out of options, so for the Indians to take Carrasco out of the rotation and replace him with someone else they would have to move Carrasco to the bullpen and at least for this season pretty much punt on him as a starter – and in the process send out a potentially valuable bullpen arm to Columbus.

The second reason is Bauer is just a few days from his service time cutoff where the Indians can guarantee an extra year of control. That cutoff is around May 6th, give or take a day, and if the Indians call him up on or after that date they should ensure control of him through at least 2020 whereas if they call him up before that date - and he sticks with the Indians and never goes back to the minors - he would be a free agent after the 2019 season. So waiting another week buys them a free year of service time for this season to call him up when they please and know that his free agent clock is pushed back another year.

It will be interesting to see how things shake out over the next week to two weeks. If Bauer has another good outing later this week with Columbus and Carrasco struggles in his next outing on Wednesday, then with the off day on Thursday the Indians could potentially align Bauer up with Carrasco’s next start on May 6th and make the rotation change then. Either way, Carrasco should not be allowed to go no more than two more starts if he is still having trouble competing and giving the Indians a chance to win.

Catching addition

The Indians are expected to make a minor roster move at some point this week once catcher Yan Gomes leaves the team for the birth of his child. His wife is expecting any day, and when the Indians make the move to add Gomes to the paternity list they will have to add a catcher to the roster for the two to three days he is away.

This is not a simple transaction where the Indians can just call up a catcher from the minors as they currently do not have any other catchers on their 40-man roster, so they will need to add that player to the 40-man roster which also means they will need to remove someone from it.

The two logical solutions in consideration for the short-term callup to Cleveland are Triple-A Columbus catchers Roberto Perez and George Kottaras. Perez is swinging a hot stick right now hitting .405 with 4 HR, 11 RBI and 1.248 OPS in 15 games so his timing is perfect, and he is a top notch defender to boot, so he would seemingly fit in well if he were called up.

However, chances are that due to the short-term nature of the callup that the Indians probably will add Kottaras to the roster. Francona likes his guys and knows Kottaras well, and will probably opt for the Major League experience he provides. He has really struggled at Columbus hitting just .087 with 0 HR, 0 RBI and .212 OPS in eight games, but it is such a short sample to go off where I think his 692 career at bats in the big leagues will outweigh the 25 at bats he has had this season at Columbus.

Also working in Kottaras’ favor is he has an April 30th opt out date which is coming up on Wednesday, so it conveniently coincides with the birth of Gomes’ child. I would expect the Indians to add Kottaras to the roster, have him up for just the two or three days and then designate him for assignment. Whether he accepts the assignment or requests free agency would be up to him at that time. There is a chance they could just keep Kottaras (or Perez) around when Gomes returns and permanently move Carlos Santana out from behind the plate (and thus send out someone like Elliot Johnson), but at this point appears less likely.

In the meantime, the Indians can keep Perez in Columbus and doing what he is doing without having to clog up the 40-man roster.  In the event he is called up it would be well-deserved. He’d probably be optioned out once Gomes returned, but would stand a good chance at sticking on the 40-man the rest of the season as a backup catching option.

What’s up with Masterson?

Indians ace right-handed starting pitcher Justin Masterson has been up and down this season with his performance, though three of his five outings have been quality starts and he has been solid his last two times out. To date he is 0-0 with a 4.50 ERA, and in 28.0 innings has allowed 31 hits, 13 walks and has 30 strikeouts.

Overall, while the ERA is higher than normal, Masterson’s peripherals are very close to what they were last season when he went 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA for the Indians. Check them out:

  K/9 BB/9 HR/9 LOB% GB% BABIP xFIP
2013 9.09 3.54 0.61 75.4% 58.0% .285 3.33
2014 9.64 4.18 0.96 70.1% 60.5% .346 3.40

What we have is a pitcher who is for the most part performing right in line with his season last year. While his walk and home run rates have bumped up a little, his strikeout and groundball rates have improved a little to balance everything out. The most glaring difference is in the batted balls in play average as he’s been a little unlucky so far as some hits have found the right holes, though some of those hits should have been fielded for an out which should not be a surprise for anyone who has watched the Indians infield defense the first 25 games.

While the performance appears to be there and if Masterson continues to pitch as he the numbers should follow, what is most concerning is his drop in velocity. It has not been a big issue at the moment because he has pitched better recently, but he is only averaging about 89 MPH with his fastball - a good 2-3 MPH off in average fastball velocity this month from where it was in April 2013.

Now, it does bear noting that at the outset of the 2012 season Masterson had some velocity issues as he averaged about 89 MPH with his fastball in his first two starts and hovered around 90-91 MPH for his first 12 starts before kicking things into gear the rest of that season. Last season he was strong from the get go averaging somewhere between 91-93 MPH with his fastball velocity the entire season except for when he got hurt at the tail end of the season.

Anytime you have a significant drop in velocity it is a concern. Obviously it is early in the season and as the weather heats up a lot of pitchers will start to throw harder as the season wears on, but you have to wonder if there is something wrong physically that is preventing that velocity or if it really is just a mechanical flaw that needs fixing.

It is interesting that Masterson appeared so eager to accept a three year extension for around $53 million this spring, which is about half of what Homer Bailey got in the offseason in his six-year $105 million extension with the Reds. For a pitcher to be fine with a much smaller deal when he is just a year away from free agency and a comparable pitcher just got a lucrative deal is a big red flag to me.  Especially since the Indians declined. It makes me wonder if both parties involved know something they are not sharing.

Teams and players often hide injuries whenever possible. I am merely speculating, but this could be the case with Masterson. Hopefully over his next few starts he can show more consistency with his performance and even more importantly his velocity in order to calm those fears. I know I have seen it one too many times where a sudden drop in velocity is often a warning sign of an injury yet to be unveiled.

Parting shot

The Indians faced a right-handed starting pitcher on Saturday and Sunday, yet Terry Francona sent struggling cleanup hitter Carlos Santana to play third base both games while Lonnie Chisenhall sat on the bench. Chisenhall is hitting .381 with a .946 OPS this season while Santana is hitting just .122 with a .496 OPS. I know Francona likes to stick with his guys, but Santana is mired in an awful 4-for-63 stretch and Chisenhall has been red hot. Why not play Chisenhall and give Santana a break at least one of those games?

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

Jimmy
April 29, 2014 - 7:09 PM EDT
I think that maybe bring up Trevor B to take Carrasco's place in starting line-up is great. Look how he pitched in the first outing this year. I think that Carrasco should take Scott Achinson place in the bull pen. Carrasco can pitch and is much younger and showed last year he could do the job. When Yan leaves team for three days, why bring up George K but bring up a spark like Roberto Perez, who is hitting very well. Why should the players who are having good years in minors not be used instead of keeping older players like Scott A and George K because they were good back when. I still think that Jesse A would really help the team either helping Swish on IB or DH. I agree that Ronnie should be playing and if he sets a long time, his timing and fielding will decrease. Why not hit the players producing instead on going on pass to allow struggling players to play. What has happen to Ryan, he is not the same Ryan? We need to stop the bleeding and please management it is still earlier in the season...who are you trying to mislead??????
Hermie13
April 29, 2014 - 11:29 AM EDT
Going to be interesting to see how he does in the pen. With all the injuries to pitchers in baseball this year...gotta imagine Antonetti's phone is busy today with teams checking in on Carrasco. Feel he could be a good change of scenery guy and there will be teams that see that FIP/xFIP and think they can right the ship with him (Pittsburgh comes to mind, maybe even the Rays).
Avory
April 29, 2014 - 11:17 AM EDT
I agree with Willie; this is essentially a two-starter situation for the get-away game. Facing CJ Wilson, the Tribe was probably petrified of Carrasco giving up a run or two early and getting the Indians behind the 8-ball, so they start Zach, tell him to go as hard as he can, then bring in Carlos on his regular day if we're in a long man situation (way ahead or way behind) and hope he can give us some effective innings. Me, I would have continued starting Carrasco, but the team freaked out over his comments and the Wednesday pitching matchup and decided to limp home in tatters and figure out what they're going to do over the off day. This has been one lousy trip so far. We've had wins sitting there and we don't want 'em. The on-base percentages in this line-up are beyond embarrassing.
Tony
April 29, 2014 - 10:45 AM EDT
The comments certainly didn't help. I definitely think he was going to get one more start on Wednesday but the comments were the proverbial last straw and the Indians just simply decided to move on now. Looks like Carrasco is just another example of a guy who has stuff pouring out of his ears but doesn't have the makeup mentally to handle a starting role.
Seth
April 29, 2014 - 10:27 AM EDT
I think Carrasco's comments to the media about his mechanical changes likely doomed him.
Walter
April 29, 2014 - 10:04 AM EDT
It was not that short of leash. I think they were going to give him more chances, but Carrasco has no faith in his delivery change to see itf it would lead to successful results. Maybe by working in the bullpen he has more of opportunity to work on his mechanics without the pressure.

GSon
April 29, 2014 - 9:16 AM EDT
@Tony... So it's two starts and evaluate for Carrasco.. it will be the first week in May.. 20 % or the starts would be completed by Carrasco.. When Carlos won the job in ST, he didn't get a guaranteed spot in the rotation for life.. The difficulty in jumping from AAA to MLB is the most difficult in sports.. Staying in MLB is harder yet.. The bullpen wouldn't be hurt by having a "long man". In fact, Tito will probably welcome the addition of the eighth pitcher in the pen, that's how he rolls.. Tito and the Indians won't miss Elliot Johnson, who doesn't play, anyway..

That's probably what's going to happen.. most likely.. but, what if Carrasco has a successful outing?. Does that put everything on hold? Should it?.
Willie
April 29, 2014 - 9:12 AM EDT
Hermie13,

Agreed, seems like a rash move this early in the season. They obviously, want to compete, but there is a lot of ball to be played. No need to do this at this point.

IMO, McAllister will likely be on a pitch count (75 pitches?) and then they'll turn it over to Carrasco. What's the point?
Hermie13
April 29, 2014 - 9:07 AM EDT
err...getting Carrasco out of the rotation
Willie
April 29, 2014 - 9:07 AM EDT
Interesting to see how good Roberto Perez has been, knowing his struggles last season. It's easy to see he has the defense for the big league level, and he takes a lot of walks.

I think Perez could be a 200 hitter with plenty of walks, and dbls power (maybe 5hrs) as a backup C. Perez's walk rate helps offset the low BA coupled with his plus D makes him an ideal candidate to be the backup.

Obviously, count me in the category that thinks Perez should get the call of Kottaras. However, the Indians will likely go with Kottaras short term due to his big league experience.
Hermie13
April 29, 2014 - 9:02 AM EDT
Not a fan of starting Z-Mac on 3 days rest right now. Seems like a panic move in April. Can understand getting Carrasco out of the pen but could have called someone up from AAA to make that start even if it wasn't Bauer. Don't need an 8 man pen right now with how deep the starters have been going (hell, even Carrasco was working into the 6th).
Willie
April 29, 2014 - 8:58 AM EDT
That was a shorter leash than expected with Carrasco. Obviously, they are disappointed with his performance...but I thought he'd get a few more starts.

As for Trevor Bauer, time to ride the hot hand. Bauer looks for real, after last seasons struggles he's really impressed. I'm a huge Bauer fan, I hope he takes full advantage of the opportunity. It's easy to invision Bauer leading the rotation for yrs to come, but I don't want to get carried away with expectations.
Hermie13
April 29, 2014 - 8:43 AM EDT
@CL Who

When you ask "best" BAA do you mean the highest? (would be the worst IMO). If so, it was Homer Bailey prior to yesterday's games (not sure if things have changed). Saw it online, will need to find the link.
Walter
April 29, 2014 - 8:37 AM EDT
Meant 8 man bullpen...Sorry
Walter
April 29, 2014 - 8:36 AM EDT
When Bauer comes up on the 6th does the Indians go back to 8 man rotation? Or will they try to trade Carrasco? I guess Johnson days are numbered.
Tony
April 29, 2014 - 8:25 AM EDT
That came a little earlier than expected, though it still puts that fifth starter spot in line to be filled by Bauer on Tuesday 5/6 as predicted. For the Indians to skip Carrasco and pitch McAllister on four days rest says a lot. I am thinking those public comments about his mechanics did not help the situation at all. So, it looks like Bauer time.....and conveniently right under his service time threshold. If my math is right, if he starts on May 6th and spends the rest of the season with the Indians he will finish with 170 or 171 days of service....which is just under 172 days which is considered a full season.
Nick S
April 29, 2014 - 7:52 AM EDT
Well Mac is starting Wed. instead of Carlos. Carlos is going to the pen for now, said Tito monday night.
Rich
April 29, 2014 - 7:14 AM EDT
The comment about Masterson being willing to accept half of what Bailey got possibly because he knew something was wrong with his arm reminds me of Travis Hafner suddenly signing a long term contract in mid-season after not signing that spring. At the time he signed his home run rate was half of what it was the previous season, when he hit 42 HR's despite missing the last month. I think he only ended up with 24 HR's the year he signed his extension, and he was never the same after that.

I'd be suspicious, too, until I see that velocity come back.
Tony
April 28, 2014 - 10:07 PM EDT
Why does everyone keep saying bring up Ramirez to play shortstop? He has minimal experience there and is not being developed as one.
Hawk1228
April 28, 2014 - 7:27 PM EDT
I would trade both Cabrera and Santana. I really do not see great value in Santana defensively and his offense is killing us. Bring up Ramirez,play him at short bat him second and Aquilar bat him cleanup as a DH and spell Swisher from time to time. Insert Chisenhall back at third base and move Swisher down to 6th in order.
C L Who
April 28, 2014 - 6:41 PM EDT
Hermie13, what starter has the best BAA on ground balls? Where is this stat found?
Seth
April 28, 2014 - 5:24 PM EDT
Kipnis has been terrible this year. His range has gone from decent, maybe even a little better than average in 2012, to nonexistent. And Swisher, he was pretty good at 1b last year, he dropped a couple easy ones but I remember him making quite a few nice plays. The SF series was ridiculous, the Indians kept hitting hard ground balls to 1b and 2b that were getting gobbled up, then SF would hit the same type of balls through Kipnis and Swisher. Good thing the Indians pitchers lead the league in strikeouts
Hermie13
April 28, 2014 - 4:37 PM EDT
Kipnis as an average LFer is fine by me. OF defense is important but Cleveland doesn't have any crazy large OF alleys or anything and he'd cover enough ground to be solid (think Brantley out there).

Problem here....you sort of need to move Bourn to get Kipnis to the OF don't you? Or do you move him to DH til Bourn's deal is up?

Really need Swisher to simply improve as well. Last year was pretty damn solid at 1B but so far this year, left much to be desired.
Tony
April 28, 2014 - 4:28 PM EDT
Thanks Hermie. I was going to go into the infield defensive issues this week, but time did not allow and will go into it next week. But no doubt the infield defense has been a significant issue this season which has impacted the effectiveness of the starters and others. It's like they are playing with only three infielders instead of four.

What will be interesting to see is how they correct this issue. Obviously Lindor will eventually replace Cabrera so there should be a positive gain there....but they need to do more than just fix shortstop as they have been brutal all around the infield. At one time I was against this, but I am open to it now....but would they seriously consider a change of Kipnis back to the outfield so Jose Ramirez can play there? He's be a significant upgrade defensively and could be a solid offensive performer too. Obviously the argument is that Kipnis becomes merely average as an outfielder.....but it is tempting.
C L Who
April 28, 2014 - 4:16 PM EDT
Interesting thoughts about an undisclosed injury to JM. My opinion during and before ST when a deal to extend him couldn't be reached was to trade him then and there, since the Tribe would not be able to meet his price. There is still alot of baseball to be played, but at this point the Tribe looks like a .500 team at best, even if JM is on the roster. I'd pull the trigger on a trade now and sign a hitter. After Santana starts hitting again, as he no doubt will, I'd trade him as well. Both JM and CS are worth quite a bit in trade.
Hermie13
April 28, 2014 - 4:02 PM EDT
So more interesting numbers...

On groundballs this year, opponents are batting .364 off Carrasco this year. 8th highest mark on groundballs (min 25 GB) in all of baseball. Salazar is currently 7th at a .367 clip. Kluber and McAllister both rank in in the 'top' 25 here too.


Can't be said enough....the infield defense is just absolutely killing this team right now. Not saying Carrasco would be a stud with better defense but would be interesting to see how he'd do with a better one...

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