Fantasy baseball season is nearly here, so to kick-start your 2016 draft prep, SI.com’s fantasy baseball expert Michael Beller will give a snapshot of certain players who may not necessarily be a breakout, a sleeper or a bust (all of which we’ll preview in the upcoming weeks), but could still prove influential this season.
The player: Carlos Carrasco, SP, Indians
• The 2015 stats: 30 starts, 183 2/3 innings, 3.63 ERA, 2.66 xFIP, 1.07 WHIP, 14–12, 216 strikeouts
• The two-year sample (only as starter): 44 starts, 274 2/3 IP, 3.30 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 19–18, 317 strikeouts
• The SI rank: No. 47 overall, No. 13 SP
• The consensus rank (FantasyPros): No. 58 overall, No. 17 SP
• The skinny: Last year, three pitchers finished in the top five in strikeout rate, strikeouts per nine innings and xFIP. Clayton Kershaw was first in strikeout rate, first in xFIP (by a wide margin) and second in K/9. Chris Sale was the reverse. The White Sox’s star lefty finished first in K/9 and second in both strikeout rate and xFIP.
The only other pitcher in this company with Kershaw and Sale, which is pretty good company, was Carlos Carrasco.
Carrasco enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2015, his age-28 season. He was fourth with a 29.6% strikeout rate, fifth at 10.58 K/9 and fourth in xFIP at a cool 2.66, right in front of Dallas Keuchel and Max Scherzer on the leaderboard. Carrasco also had a 1.07 WHIP, good for 11th in the majors, ahead of the likes of Sale, David Price and Sonny Gray. He was one of 28 pitchers with a walk rate south of 6%, and one of just the nine of those who also struck out more than one-fourth of the batters he faced.
Looking for a pitcher who misses a ton of bats, doesn’t issue free passes and keeps the ball in the yard? Carrasco was one of eight pitchers to strike out more than a batter per inning, walk fewer than 2.2 per nine innings, and surrender fewer than 0.9 homers per nine. The others? Jake Arrieta, Kershaw, Carlos Martinez, Price, Jon Lester, Jacob deGrom and Madison Bumgarner. That, too, is good company.
How did Carrasco do it? Remember, he was getting his first shot at being a full-time starter since 2011. He missed the entire ’12 season due to injury and then appeared in 55 games over the next two seasons, making just 21 starts. As a reliever, Carrasco was able to lean on his four seamer, which sits at 95–96 mph, to dominate hitters. That, of course, would have to change now that he had his sights set on 180 innings rather than 100 or 120. While the four seamer was still his most used pitch at 40.6%, he threw his slider and, perhaps more importantly, his sinker more than ever.
No matter how hard you throw, major leaguers will be able to catch up eventually if it’s straight enough, especially if it’s your only hard offering. Carrasco’s four seamer became a lot more hittable when hitters started getting some exposure to him. That’s where the sinker made its presence felt. Carrasco threw it 15% of the time last year, a touch more often than his changeup, but still far less than the four-seamer. However, it gave him a fastball that had significant vertical and horizontal movement that he could use to differentiate his hard stuff. It had a whiff rate of 10.8%, nearly double his four seamer, and hitters managed just a .111 isolated slugging percentage against it, nearly 100 points less than the four seamer. Only his changeup resulted in a better ground ball to fly ball ratio than the sinker. Moreover, it gave him a fourth pitch that was truly a weapon.
Few pitchers can match Carrasco’s arsenal, a point we will drive home a bit later in draft prep season when we start unveiling our position primers. Make no mistake, Carrasco is elite when it comes to missing bats, and that alone makes him a potential fantasy ace. This may be the season he becomes a real-life one, as well.
• The best-case scenario: Nothing that Carrasco did last season was a mirage. When a pitcher has five pitches as good as each of Carrasco’s, he can’t help but dominate. Carrasco’s win-loss luck evens out to the delight of fantasy owners, and he continues to strike out nearly 30% of the batters he faces.
• The worst-case scenario: Turns out Carrasco pitched over his head last year. The strikeout rate dips below 25%, which results in him striking out just one batter per inning. What’s worse, all those extra balls in play results in an increase in both ERA and WHIP, while his win-loss luck remains the same as it was last year.