PHOENIX — Analytics helped Brandon McCarthy redefine his pitching style three years ago. Now they are keeping him sane.
McCarthy believes, and the Diamondbacks concur, that he is throwing the ball much better than the 0-3 record and 7.48 ERA that he will bring into Wednesday’s start against San Francisco indicates.
He just might be right.
The new math is on his side.
In McCarthy’s first five starts, opponents have a .396 batting average against him on balls that have been put in play. The acronym is BABIP. That number is the batting average on opponents’ at-bats that do not result in a strikeout or a home run; that is, balls on which the defense can make a play (except for a sacrifice fly).
His BABIP is abnormally, irrationally and ridiculously high, more than 100 percentage points higher than his career average of .288, which also is about major league average. A statistician would believe a regression to the mean is inevitable.
It is, well, crazy.
“I don’t know what’s happening,” McCarthy said. “Everything is just kind of out of everybody’s reach. It is just all kind of rolling through.” McCarthy said.
The D-backs have seen the same thing.
“It’s not like he sore, he’s hurt, he’s mechanically screwed up, or he can’t throw the ball where he wants to throw the ball,” manager Kirk Gibson said. “It’s none of that. He’s thrown the ball well. It hasn’t gone our way. We’ve very comfortable with where he’s at.”
“Early in the year, everything gets blown out of proportion,” Paul Goldschmidt said.
McCarthy and his wife, Amanda, were on the cover of ESPN’s baseball analytics issue in the spring of 2012, and McCarthy is a strong believer that the new numbers contribute to a more accurate reflection of how a pitcher’s effort. More and more baseball people are beginning to accept, if not rely on, the validity of the higher math.
McCarthy’s last start was an indicator of how thin the line is. McCarthy gave up five runs in six innings, with Carlos Gonzalez’s flared single to left field contributing to a two-run first inning. A seeing-eye single to right field and a Dexter Fowler bunt single set up a three-run Rockies’ fifth inning, capped by a bases-loaded double by Troy Tulowitzki. McCarthy struck out seven and did not walk a batter with a fastball that touched 94 mph.
The Tulowitzki pitch, a cut fastball that caught a lot of the plate, simply “sucked,” he said later.
As for some of the others …
“I’ve never been through a stretch like it,” he said. “I’m not one to sit around and feel sorry for myself. But it gets to the point where, when is the ball going to go to somebody?”
Not that McCarthy, who has given up 45 hits and 23 earned runs, is making any excuses.
“I try to be fair and honest with myself, good and bad,” he said. “There have been a few outings this year where I’ve thrown much better than the results have shown. Then there are some when I haven’t thrown as well, and those are the ones you feel you should be punished for.”
That the BABIP is so uncharacteristically high is no solace, he said, “but it’s something.
“I’m not making changes. I’m not doing anything drastic. It’s just of go about my routine and hope things turn back in my direction.”