The stage was set perfectly for D.J. Carrasco Saturday night. Carrasco, who entered the game unscored upon in his last six outings, was called into action early after Mike Pelfrey had to leave the game after getting hit by a line drive. The Mets were up 4-2 with no outs and a runner on first in the bottom of the fifth. All Carrasco had to do was get out of the inning with the lead and he would be in line for an easy vulture win.

Instead, Carrasco hit a batter and then surrendered a first-pitch HR to Ryan Roberts so instead of a victory, Carrasco ended up taking the loss. It was the latest setback in what can only be described as a disappointing season for the veteran righty, who signed a two-year deal with the Mets in the offseason. In the three previous years, Carrasco posted a combined 9-3 record and a 3.77 ERA with 157 Ks in 210.1 IP. Last night’s defeat dropped his record to the Mets to 1-3 with a 4.86 ERA.

So, what’s gone wrong with Carrasco?

His velocity is down a not-insignificant amount, falling from 90.8 last year with Arizona to 89.1 this year in New York. But Carrasco relies less on his fastball than most pitchers, throwing it just 33.6 percent of the time according to FanGraphs. And their Pitch Type Values show his fastball as being an above-average pitch.

Instead, the problem seems to be with his cutter and curve ball. In 2010, those two offering were Carrasco’s best pitches. This year they’ve both been horrible. Only better results with his slider have helped this year from being even worse than it has been for the 34-year old, as it has a 5.98 runs above average per 100 pitches mark.

Last night Carrasco gave up a homer on his slider.

If you ever wondered what a hanging slider looked like, the following graph should give you a pretty good idea. This image comes courtesy of Dan Brooks’ PitchFX site and I think it’s fair to say that this one caught a little too much of the plate.

Sometimes you get beat and there’s certainly no shame in allowing a HR to Roberts, who has hit 16 homers this year. But the rate at which Carrasco has been getting beat is alarming and it’s enough to ask if he should be on the team next year, even with a guaranteed contract. Carrasco has already been sent to the minors this year, something not expected by anyone in the organization when he signed his free agent contract.

Sandy Alderson has done a very nice job in his first season as GM but one black mark in his book has been the Carrasco signing. It’s easy to look back with 20-20 vision and criticize this move, but few, if any, were complaining when he signed the deal. Relievers pitch limited innings and wacky results can and do happen in the small sample of a single season of a bullpen arm.

But let’s look at Carrasco’s peripherals.

K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 K% BB% GB/FB
2008 6/98 3.26 2.14 0.47 19.0 8.9 1.83
2009 5.98 2.80 2.14 0.48 15.3 7.2 1.43
2010 7.47 3.91 1.91 0.57 19.7 10.3 1.50
2011 5.35 3.41 1.57 1.46 13.9 8.9 1.27
Career 5.78 3.71 1.56 0.79 14.8 9.5 1.71

His strikeouts are down, his K/BB are down and his HR rate is through the roof. That last point gets magnified when we see that Carrasco is allowing more fly balls this season than at any point in his career. Sure, we can say that he’s been unlucky with a 13.6 HR/FB rate, but as last night’s hanging slider implies – maybe it’s not all bad luck.

Before his trip to the minors, Carrasco allowed 19 FB compared to 14 GB. Since his return, those numbers are 25 and 42, respectively. Since he’s done better with getting grounders, let’s see how he’s done since his return versus his career numbers.

K/9 BB/9 K/BB HR/9 GB/FB
Since Return 5.47 2.73 2.00 1.03 1.68
Career 5.78 3.71 1.56 0.79 1.71

The strikeouts are down, but we see his K/BB numbers are better than his career marks and right in line with what he’s done the past three seasons. His GB/FB numbers beat what he’s posted the past two years and are right in line with his lifetime numbers. It all comes down to the gopher balls. And even there he has a 12.0 HR/FB rate since the recall, elevated for Carrasco but not far off from what we would expect.

As frustrating as last night was, Carrasco has essentially been the pitcher we should have expected when he joined the Mets. At least he’s been that guy since his return from the minors. While his overall numbers this year do not look good, lately he has been the pitcher Alderson thought he was signing and there’s no reason at this point to not consider him part of the 2012 bullpen.

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