Adjustments Made These Two Pitchers Great
If you have ever listened to the Fantasy Best Friends Forever on the FNTSY Radio Network, you have likely heard me say this at one time or another, but if a player makes a change or adjustment and it leads to success, I buy in. If a batter changes his swing (I see you Matt Olson) or changes the way they lift the ball believe in the success. Many times, Fantasy analysts and owners are quick to call it regression, and then end up missing out on a player. There is a pitcher who made a change last season that I believe in and that is Luis Castillo.
I am surely not alone in believing in Castillo. However, I am here to tell you that I would draft him as a Top-25 starting pitcher this season. What change did he make? On July 25th he incorporated a sinker, which completely changed his arsenal. Giving credit where it is due, this change was pointed out to me in a FanGraphs article and inspired me to dive deep on Castillo myself.
First, let’s take a look at his numbers before he started throwing his sinker. In six starts he put up a 3.86 ERA, 4.59 FIP, 3.66 xFIP, with 11.06 K/9, 3.86 BB/9, a 55.7 percent groundball rate, 21.2 percent HR/FB, and a 30.7 percent hard hit rate. These numbers are solid as is, but the ERA and indicators are too high to help him qualify as a Top-25 starting pitcher.
Once he incorporated his sinker he posted a 2.65 ERA, 3.19 FIP, 3.25 xFIP, while averaging 9.11 K/9, 2.28 BB/9, a 60.9 percent groundball rate, 12.9 percent HR/FB rate, with a 29 percent hard hit rate in his final nine starts. As you can see, he improved his ERA and the indicators significantly, while increasing his already very impressive groundball rate. He kept the ball in the park and reduced hard contact. What is not to love, right? However, the real question is whether this is sustainable.
I believe it is. First, the fact that he kept the ball in the park and had an elite groundball rate clearly goes hand-in-hand with his use of the sinker. His sinker recorded a ground ball 76.74 percent of the time, by far the most of any of his pitches. He also started to draw more swings-and-misses and a lower batting average against with his fastball and changeup once he incorporated his sinker.
It is evident that Castillo had a good arsenal of pitches already but was missing that one complementary pitch that would be the final piece of the puzzle. The youngster mixed in that pitch at the end of July and was one of the best starters in the game in the second half. Do not discount that. Buy into him as a Top-25 starter.
He is not the only pitcher that made changes and has me buying in. You do not need to be told that Carlos Carrasco is a great pitcher. But, it may surprise you that I have him ranked ahead of Stephen Strasburg, Jacob deGrom, and Luis Severino. Why you ask? Carrasco was one of the best starters of the second half last season. You should know by now that there was a change that I am going to tell you about.
First, let’s compare his first and second half. In the first half, he posted a 3.44 ERA, 3.42 FIP, 3.40 xFIP, with a 27.5 percent strikeout rate, 6.5 percent walk rate, a 44.7 percent ground ball rate, 13.8 percent HR/FB, and a 30.3% hard hit rate.
I already told you he was one of the best starters in the second half, but I will let the numbers back me up. In the second half, he had a 3.12 ERA, 2.76 FIP, 3.06 xFIP, with a 29.2 percent strikeout rate, five percent walk rate, 45.7 percent groundball rate, 11.0 percent HR/FB, and a 30.3% hard hit rate.
As you can see his ERA, FIP and xFIP were all lower, while his strikeout rate and groundball rate improved. Carrasco changed his arsenal up in the second half, electing to use his secondary pitches more and reducing his fastball usage, which explains the improvements he made as the season went on.
In the first half, he threw his Fastball 50.8 percent of the time, his slider 17 percent, curveball 17 percent, and changeup 15.2 percent of the time.
Here is how those numbers break down in the second half: Fast Ball 45.7 percent, slider 21 percent, curveball 15.3 percent, changeup 18 percent.
It makes sense that using his secondary pitches would lead to success, as batters hit .345 against his fastball last season, but just .120 against his changeup, .158 against his slider and .154 against his curveball. Additionally, his fastball and slider are his only two pitches that did not induce a groundball at least 51 percent of the time (his changeup did 77.53 percent of the time).
On top of that, the change led to where he attacked in the zone.
First Half Heatmap (courtesy of FanGraphs):
Second Half Heatmap:
The change in arsenal led to him attacking lower in the zone, which explains the uptick in groundballs and the decrease in homers. Looking deeper, his changeup and curveball allowed fly balls less than eight percent of the time in the second half. His other pitches were not nearly as effective in that aspect, but all improved in the percentage of fly balls allowed in the second half. His arsenal change clearly worked and helped an already great pitcher cover up some blemishes.
As I always say, I buy into changes that players make, and so should you. Do not hesitate to build a pitching staff with Castillo, Carrasco or even both!
Make sure to follow me on Twitter, @MichaelFFlorio.
Carlos Carrasco Photo Credit: AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
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