How the Yankees Freed Brandon McCarthy

AP Photo
AP Photo

A few weeks before Brandon McCarthy was traded, I made a point to mention the fact that he might be an attractive trade target for a GM who wanted an upgrade at SP without having to empty the farm system. As it turned out, my guess was pretty good and McCarthy was shipped off to the Yankees. Since the trade, he’s has shown just how good he can be when his approach isn’t messed with.

Hit the jump to see just how good McCarthy has been and what to expect going forward.

In 2014, McCarthy had an awful campaign with the Diamondbacks, yet his peripherals always pointed towards something better. Before he was traded, McCarthy owned a record of 3 and 10, to go along with a 4.89 ERA. As bad as those numbers were however, the Yankees most likely saw (among other things) his spectacular FIP/xFIP (3.79/2.87) and SIERA of 3.02. All of his peripherals looked great, and his BAbip of .352 also pointed to the fact that he was extremely unlucky, and a product of the Diamondbacks inability to field.

One of the most fascinating things about McCarthy, is that while most players have rejected the new wave of statistics, he instead embraced them in hopes that they could help him become a better pitcher. Simply put, McCarthy said he “didn’t want to suck anymore” and began learning about FIP, BAbip, and even WAR. This is a man who clearly has done his homework, and probably has a very good idea of how to attack hitters. Being of the sabermetric ilk and a member of Billy Beane’s Oakland Athletics, the Diamondbacks may not have been the best franchise to join. With Kevin Towers and Kirk Gibson running the helm, it’s not a stretch to think that McCarthy’s sabermetric approach wasn’t greeted with open arms. In fact, after going to the Diamondbacks, they seemingly altered his approach, dramatically reducing the number of cutters he threw.

After the trade, McCarthy was quoted as saying “It’s hard to keep major league hitters off of just one pitch. The cutter neutralizes the inner half of the plate against lefthanders, and you can do things away to righthanders with it. They [Diamondbacks] didn’t want me throwing it anymore. They wanted more sinkers away, but I feel like I need that pitch to be successful.” However when he got to the Yankees, they immediately encouraged the use of McCarthy’s cutter, telling him that, “We need to bring the cutter back into play.”

During the 2014 season with the Diamondbacks, McCarthy threw his cutter only 10.2% of the time, compared to 16.8% thus far with the Yankees; an incredible increase of 64.7%. This probably isn’t the sole reason for his newfound success, but it certainly hasn’t hurt. In his three starts in a Yankee uniform, McCarthy has increased his K/9 rate to 8.20 vs. his career of 6.21; dramatically reduced his ERA from 4.89 to 1.45; and even improved upon his peripheral stats with an FIP of 2.49, an xFIP of 2.81, and a SIERA of 2.97. It’s interesting to note that even with all of these improved statistics, his BAbip is still high at .327 compared to his career of .297. Heatmap w/ Diamondbacks

While Kirk Gibson recently denied these claims, it’s pretty clear from looking at his heatmaps that the Diamondbacks and Yankees have vastly different views of how McCarthy should pitch. The following two heatmaps represent the number and percentage of pitches being thrown to each of the 9 sections within the strike zone. The chart on top represents McCarthy’s tendencies while with the Diamondbacks, and the bottom while with the Yankees. These images are so different it’s almost like looking at heatmaps for two different Heatmap w/ Yankeespitchers. While with the Diamondbacks, McCarthy attacked the inner half of the zone to righthanded hitters, and rarely came inside to lefthanders. However with the Yankees, McCarthy’s cutter was freed and allowed to dominate hitters once again. He has started to pound the inner half to lefhanders, while still throwing the vast majority of his pitches to the lower half of the zone.

It’s almost a guarantee that McCarthy’s ERA will increase a few ticks in the coming weeks, but his high BAbip suggests that he’s not headed for a huge downfall. McCarthy’s overall approach is a successful one, and should continue to be for the rest of the season. If you took my advice back in mid June and held on to him, you’ve undoubtedly been in love with your decision since McCarthy put on the pinstripes. He’s only owned in 24% of Yahoo leagues and 17.7% of ESPN leagues, so even if you didn’t take my advice, there’s a good chance he’s still available in whatever league you’re in. If you can grab him now, I highly recommend doing so as he could be a valuable commodity as either a new pitcher for your rotation, or as a trade chip down the stretch.