The Indians are 11-15 and have played some pretty sloppy baseball throughout April. When a team is off to such a start and has played so poorly in almost every facet of the game, some changes are going to be made.
The first such significant change was the announcement after Monday night’s game in Anaheim that Carlos Carrasco has been moved to the bullpen.
Carrasco, 27, went 0-3 with a 6.95 ERA in four starts this season, and while that may appear a very abbreviated opportunity to show what he can do, please keep in mind that in 44 career starts he is 10-22 with a 5.66 ERA. His last outing on Friday was encouraging in that he went at least six innings for the first time this season and he 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 found themselves in an interesting predicament with Carrasco. Do they keep starting him in the hopes that with his stuff he finally puts it together while his history in the league says he wouldn’t? Or, do they put the proverbial nail in the coffin of him as a starting option with them and just send him to the bullpen where he may have more success and impact the team?
An average starting pitcher is more valuable than even a very good reliever, so the Indians did their due diligence in attempting to find out one last time whether they could start him. Barring a rash of injuries or poor performance from others which forces him back into the rotation, Carrasco’s days as a starter in Cleveland are over.
There are some that will hate this move and for good reason. He comes with a lot of pedigree as a former top prospect, was one of the headliners in the Cliff Lee deal and has some pretty good stuff as he consistently throws in the mid-90s and has three good to very good secondary offerings.
For the advanced stats fans, Carrasco also has some exciting peripherals with a very good 9.4 K/9, a solid 3.7 BB/9, a nice 54.0% groundball rate and a 3.67 FIP (fielding independent pitching) which show that his performance has actually been better than his ERA suggests. Those are very interesting stats for any pitcher — let alone a fifth starter — and typically bear a longer look.
But four things immediately factored into the change, forcing the Indians to make a move in the rotation now.
First, the Indians are trying to win. If this were the minor leagues or a rebuilding year they could stick Carrasco in the rotation until the All-Star break, see what they have and then re-evaluate his role from there. But winning does not allow for such patience and is why the Indians had to make a change.
Secondly, 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.
Third, Carrasco has had troubles with the mechanical adjustments to his delivery. He has been working on them for five to six months, so if he is not going to get them by now, when will he? There has been little progress with it and over the weekend he made some comments about the changes that came off as him not being on the same page with the Indians. At this point, there is little belief that he will be able to make those changes needed that the Indians believe will make him a more consistent starter, and so they made the change.
Last, and maybe most importantly, 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.
In a lot of ways Bauer is the anti-Carrasco. Both are very talented pitchers with frontline stuff, but while Carrasco is struggling to find consistency with his delivery and performance, 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.
An argument can be made that the Indians poor defense has let Carrasco down. In fact, the defense has let all of their pitchers down, which is why so many pitchers on the staff have a FIP that is so much lower than their ERA. There are many plays that have not been made that are not errors which have had a dramatic impact on the outcome of a pitcher’s final stat line in a game, and Carrasco is no different as his 3.68 FIP is 26th among all AL starter — one spot in front of teammate Justin Masterson who is 27th (3.74).
The Indians probably made an incorrect decision to go with Carrasco as their fifth starter at the outset of the season and not go with Josh Tomlin or Aaron Harang. They may have also made a rash decision to pull the plug on him too soon. But they have to find a spark and at this point the hope is that his very good peripheral numbers translate well to the bullpen where he can be an elite reliever and that Bauer — assuming he is called up next Tuesday — can provide more consistency in the rotation.