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Is It All In Carlos Carrasco’s Head?

He pitched another game that drove Indians fans nuts on Saturday afternoon. A game in which most fans walked away asking themselves: “Who is the real Carlos Carrasco?” A game in which he gave up four earned runs in only 5 2/3 innings but also struck out seven while walking only two.

Over the past three seasons, this rhetorical question has come to mind more than once. When we observe the arsenal of pitches, one can see the potential that he has to be a dominate front-of-the rotation starter. What is most frustrating, however, is that he has failed to become it– yet.

Let’s look back at Carrasco’s pitching history to try and gauge what could be going on that is triggering his “bi-polar” pitching performances.

Back in 2007, Carrasco was ranked as the top prospect in the Phillies organization by Baseball America and the 41st-best in baseball. Unfortunately, his surface results didn’t exactly scream future star, as he posted poor ERAs at the majority of his minor league stops through 2009. Then at the end of the 2011 season, Carrasco went under the knife, undergoing Tommy John surgery.

He finally returned in 2013 and posted the best strikeout rate of his minor league career. Granted, this was his fifth time pitching at the Triple-A level, but this was different. Like so many others enjoyed after returning from the surgery due to the intensive rehab, Carrasco’s fastball velocity surged. Previously, he had averaged between 92 and 93 mph, but last year he averaged nearly 95 mph, peaking at 98 mph, a full mile and a half per hour faster than he was recorded at before in the Majors. Although the pitch curiously didn’t induce more swings and misses during his time with the Indians last year, all else being equal, a faster fastball is preferable to a slower one, with the caveat that the pitcher in question can command the harder fastball just as well.

The better fastball could also make Carrasco’s change up more effective. Last year, he induced a 20.7% swing and miss in the strike zone (SwStk%) on the pitch . While that wasn’t quite high enough to rank in the top 10, it wasn’t too far off. It’s an excellent pitch, even generating grounders over 70% of the time. Usually pitchers have a choice with their change up– get hitters to swing on top of the ball and hit a weak grounder or make the hitter swing and miss. To be able to do both like Carrasco can is rare.

In addition, although Carrasco doesn’t throw it all that often, his slider has been absolutely fantastic at inducing whiffs, even more so than his nasty changeup. He posted a SwStk% of 27.9% with the pitch last year, which would have ranked first in baseball had he qualified for Eno’s list. Over his short career, that pitch has averaged a SwStk% of 23.3%. Not quite as incredible, but still one of the best.

So we’re talking two plus pitches and a fastball that averages 95 mph. What else can an organization want in a potential front-end of the rotation starter? In addition, he also has a career ground ball rate of 50%; not bad if you want hitters to keep the ball on the ground most of the time. While his control is not Cliff Lee caliber, it is still good. In terms of underlying abilities, he seemingly possesses the complete package.

Now it’s just a matter of turning those skills into results. The raw stuff is there, so now it’s up to Carrasco and Mickey Callaway to put the package together.

If his stuff is showing that he is an above average starter, what is holding him back?

Could it be all in his head?