Sunday was another in a long line of rough outings for Carlos Carrasco, allowing six runs (five earned) on five hits and three walks over three innings in an 8-7 loss to St. Louis. His ERA shot up to 6.34, and his 6.66 FIP is his highest since his 22.1 inning cup of coffee with Cleveland in 2009. Simply, 2023 has been a nightmare.

Carrasco’s strikeout and walk rates are trending in the wrong directions, and alarmingly his average fastball velocity is down a full mile per hour as well. None of that is particularly surprising for a 36-year-old who has had a recent history of injuries (hasn’t made 30 starts in a season since 2018), but the degree of the drop off from 2022 when he was serviceable is the part that raises eyebrows.

“You continue working,” Carrasco told reporters after Sunday’s game with the Cardinals. “I will never give up. This is [a hard game]. I have to do something completely different to break that bad luck. Every fifth day, I do everything I can.”

To his credit, the numbers show that he is making some changes, namely in his pitch mix.

His average 4-seam fastball velocity is down to 92.2 mph in 2023, a drop from 93.2 in 2022 and by far the lowest of his career. As a result, the pitch is getting crushed like it never has before – Statcast data show it with a .423 xwOBA, the worst the pitch has ever performed. This is hardly a recent trend though, as in 2021 and 2022, opponent’s xwOBA on his fastball was .401 and .404, respectively.

The two best pitches that Carrasco has thrown this season have been his slider and changeup. He has always used the slider predominantly against right-handed batters, and this year is no exception. Carrasco has thrown just 10.5% of his sliders against lefty batters this year, a far cry from his heyday where its distribution to lefties was around 20%.

Carrasco is also throwing a greater percentage of right-on-right changeups than he has since 2016, though he still favors lefties in that pitch by approximately a 60-40 split.

His xwOBA on the slider is .314 and changeup is .275. That is not an aberration, those two pitches have been his best performers since the 2015 introduction of Statcast, and he is throwing them 47.4% of the time, which is good. However, his slider is being thrown only 17.7% of the time, the lowest rate for that pitch since he made it his primary breaking ball in 2018.

Carrasco is obviously a long way from the pitcher he was back then, but for two years in 2018 and 2019, his slider was his most-frequently thrown pitch, thrown 31.7% in 2018 and 34.1% in 2019, years in which he almost completely scrapped his curveball.

In 2023, he has brought the curveball back, throwing it more often than at any point since 2017, when he had a power mid-80s breaker, and not the slower one he has now. In a relatively small sample of 64 pitches, opponents have ripped the curve for a .390 xwOBA, and in the same number of pitches his sinker has performed worse.

It seems like Carrasco is something that is very familiar in baseball – an aging pitcher with diminished stuff trying to find something that works. Rather than tinkering with pitch mix, perhaps Carrasco should try to introduce a new pitch altogether.

Most of his repertoire has become similar in profile from both a velocity and movement standpoint. His slider, changeup and both 4-seam and 2-seam fastballs average between 84.2 and 92.2 miles per hour, and have similar amounts of vertical movement (except for the 4-seamer) and horizontal movement.

Carrasco needs a pitch that is a little different, and maybe it is a sweeper that can unlock success for the right-hander. His primary slider has always been a gyro slider – a harder pitch that has more vertical drop than horizontal movement. In fact, most of Carrasco’s pitches have less horizontal movement than average, and that has been the case for the past few seasons.

Adding a sweeper – a slider with lower velocity, less drop and more horizontal movement – could be the perfect tool for Carrasco to add to his belt to keep hitters off-balance with his diminished stuff. It is a great weapon particularly against righties to generate whiffs and infield pop ups, something he needs badly (righties have a .390 wOBA against Carrasco this season vs. .344 for lefties). It can also help make his sinker – his only pitch that has significant horizontal break – even more effective because of the changing directions of movement.

Throwing a sweeper isn’t easy and not every pitcher can do it. It also won’t be a magic pill that turns Carrasco into the top of the rotation starter he was in Cleveland, but it can help make him more effective this year, and that is something the Mets absolutely need.

2 comments on “Inside Carlos Carrasco’s struggles, and a possible fix

  • MikeW

    Thank goodness Carrasco is in the last year of his contract. Also, the question is, who gets cut or goes to the bullpen when Quintana comes back, Carrasco or Megill? Let’s hope Quintana can put a good half season together.

    This team really needs Ohtani. It is going to be a bidding war.

  • Brian Joura

    I was bullish on Carrasco coming into this season and he’s been a major disappointment. At this point, I’d rather they promote Lucchesi, move Carrasco to the bullpen and make him the long man.

    It’s my opinion that an 8-mph difference between a fastball and a changeup is enough. But yesterday it was less than half of that. My belief is that Carrasco has a better shot of getting the proper speed difference between his fastball and change than he does of introducing a pitch he’s never thrown before.

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