A 17th round selection in 2002 by the Chicago White Sox, Brandon McCarthy didn't take long to make his mark. In nearly 600 minor league innings he's posted a K/9 mark of 9.7, an ERA of 3.33 and a WHIP of 1.10 thanks to hardly ever walking a batter (1.8 per nine). So, why has success at the big league level, and fantasy glory, been so fleeting for the 6'7” righty who now pitches for the Athletics? The answer is ill health. A starting pitcher who was forced to pitch out of the bullpen at times because of his inability to stay healthy, here are Brandon's innings pitched marks at the big league level: 67, 84.2, 101.2, 22.0, 97.1, zero and 170.2. I wasn't kidding about the injury factor, was I?
So what happened in 2011 when he stayed healthy for a good chunk of the season (he was still limited to 25 starts because of ongoing shoulder issues)? Not surprisingly, he was highly effective. In fact, he had the best season of his career, and by a lot. Check out the career bests he racked up for the Athletics.
25: Starts 170.2: Innings 9: Wins 3.32: ERA 1.13: WHIP 1.32: BB/9 4.92: K/BB 0.58: HR/9 1.45: GB/FB
McCarthy was 13th in the AL in ERA and 9th in WHIP, and he also finished the year 3rd in walks per nine innings while his K/BB ratio was 2nd best in the Junior Circuit.
So, when a guy hits career bests across the board the tendency is to think that the player has finally “arrived.” In the case of McCarthy, it's even more likely that people will take this view because (A) he finally was healthy which in some people's minds means he will be again and (b) he was such a successful minor league hurler that everyone “knew” he would be this pitcher one day. What do I think? You know I won't be that kind, right?
McCarthy possesses solid skills, chief amongst them his ability to locate his pitches and to keep the walks in check. As mentioned, he threw strikes at an elite level in 2011 as he harkened back to his minor league days, but his walk mark was half, literally, of his career rate of 2.77 per nine. Can he really hold on to a gain like that? McCarthy also posted his best K/9 rate in four years leading to his fantastic K/BB ratio. Can he reasonably be expected to keep up that HOF level rate? The sane response has to be no.
Long a fly ball hurler, McCarthy somehow turned into a ground ball pitcher in 2011. Yes he changed his delivery in an effort to protect his shoulder, and perhaps that did add extra sink to his ball as he didn't throw quite as over the top as before, but he posted a GB-rate of 47 percent after never before posting a mark over 39 percent as a big league pitcher. I'll need more data than 170 innings from him at this new level to believe he will be able to sustain those gains. I mean, this guy had a 32 percent fly ball ratio after never once in five seasons posting a mark less than 41.7 percent. That's a pretty seismic shift don't you think? In addition to the reduction in fly balls, he also posted the best HR/F ratio of his career leading to a HR/9 mark of 0.58, nearly a 50 percent reduction from his career rate (1.09).
So to summarize, McCarthy had an impressive season, though one that may have been predicted of him six years ago before he was hit hard by the injury bug. Given career best performances nearly across the board, including some major shifts in the type of hurler he had long been, and the ever present injury bug, it's a near certainty that McCarthy will be drafted too early in 2012. I'm not saying he won't be a decent option in league specific setups because he very well could be, but with major questions about his durability and his “new” style of pitching, I find it nearly impossible to expect a repeat effort in 2012.
By Ray Flowers
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The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: Mon-Thurs 7 PM, Fri. 9 PM EDT), Ray also hosts a show Sunday night (7-10 PM EDT). Ray has spent years squirreled away studying the inner workings of the fantasy game to the detriment of his personal life. Specializing in baseball, football and hockey, some consider him an expert in all three.
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