Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The 2009 Starting Rotation Part 2: Fausto Carmona

While he probably provided the highlight of the 2008 season, Fausto Carmona sending a glassy eyed Gary Sheffield back to his dugout propped up by his teammates is not exactly the lasting image that fans were looking for. Fausto spent two months on the DL with a strained hip, and the rest of the season he was plagued by control problems. These manifested themselves in his 70 BB in 120.2 IP, compared to 58 Ks.

It's a testament to his abilities that, despite those abysmal numbers, he managed to scrape together an 8-7 record , finishing with a 5.44 ERA. A K/BB ratio of .82 is atrocious for Fausto, considering that he posted a 2.25 in that same category last season. Not even a league leading 2.96 ground/fly ball ratio can get you out of that. What happened to the man who finished 4th in Cy Young voting in 2007, his first full season as a starter? Early on, opposing batters simply weren't biting on his powerful sinker, which seemed to fall consistently below the strike zone. He still managed to get himself out of jams, prior to his injury, posting a 3.10 ERA up to that point. As the season wore on, he seemed to lose confidence, posting a 7.61 ERA and averaging just a hair over 5 innings per game in 12 games, after coming back.

The problem, it seems, was a classic case of a young player over-pitching. Carmona uses a high right leg kick in his delivery, and while trying to get more power on his sinker, increased the kick, throwing off his balance. This resulted in losing control, and his pitches sailing out of the strike zone. This manifested itself whenever he got behind in the count. When pitching from a 1-0 count, he walked 57 and fanned 14. Compare that to 47 BB and 46 Ks last season. Even worse were his 26 BBs and 4 Ks from a 3-2 count. He could start off well enough, throwing 240 first pitch strikes compared to 163 balls, but he simply wasn't finishing guys off.

What to expect in 2009? There's a lot of reason for optimism. His mid-90s sinker is a rare pitch that is on par with a CC Sabathia slider, or even a Mariano Rivera cutter. It travels almost as fast as his 97 MPH fastball, except that it drops about two feet. When those two pitches are on, they are an un-hittable tandem. The only real problem was his control, and that was mostly mental. A defensive upgrade at third in Mark DeRosa should be a big help to a ground ball pitcher like Carmona, and an offense that (hopefully) doesn't start the season in a slump will take a lot of pressure off his arm. It's hard to bet against this kid.

Chubby Indian says:
210 IP, 17-4, 3.50 ERA, 130 Ks, 60 BBs. A determined Carmona bounces back in a big way and puts himself right in the Cy Young mix.

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