Saturday, August 2, 2008

Fausto Carmona: Comparisons and Career Projections

Thursday Indians fans saw a much improved Fausto Carmona, as he bounced back with a win and 6.1 innings of solid pitching. He struck out 3, walked only 1, gave up 2 runs, and had his ground ball rate back up to a more "Carmona-ish" level. He wasn't perfect, but much better than a week ago. In honor of Carmona's return, here are some of his comparable players and how they fared over the years...

Actually, let's have a little more fun before we get into all the details. Without looking, what comps would you suggest for Carmona? If you need to, take a moment to check his stats at your favorite stat site. I promise I'll wait right here while I eat a plate of cheese nachos with baked beans on top (one of my favorite nacho combinations)...

Ok, ready? Who'd you come up with?...Seriously? You think Carmona compares well to Goose Gossage? Is this a joke?...Well, I guess you have a good point. Put a mustache like that on Carmona, and they would look pretty much like twins.

Ok, seriously, who'd you come up with? Here's who I found along with their minor league averages.

Greg Maddux and Brandon Webb. Pretty nice comps for Carmona. You can see that there's a bit of an age difference between Carmona and Webb, but in linear progression terms, Maddux, Carmona, and Webb all match up pretty well. Of the 3, Webb had the higher strike out rates and ground ball rates, but his control wasn't so good. Maddux comes in with the lowest ground ball rates, but he played a year ahead of Carmona and 4 years ahead of Webb, so the strike out rates and walk rate are very respectable. As for Carmona, his ground ball rate and control were very advanced even in the minors.

Now that we have some comparables for Carmona, let's see how each of them did (or is doing) in the majors. We'll start with K/9 and BB/9 rates.

Very solid progression trends for both pitchers. Just as with their minor league stats, Maddux had better control, while Webb relied on a better strikeout rate, but overall they were very similar. I added the little orange stars to indicate the years that each player won the N.L. Cy Young Award, and we'll get back to that in a second, but before we do let's check their ground ball rates.

Once again, both pitchers displayed very solid trends in their ground ball rates. I wrote an article a while back discussing the value of high ground ball rates so I won't spend too much time on them here, but you can see that in general ground ball rates don't see the heavy declines during the transition from AAA to the majors like we see with strike out and walk rates. They might fluctuate a bit, but a great ground ball rate can almost immediately be applied in the major leagues, and make a ground ball pitcher very valuable early in their career.

Anyways, let's move on. I mentioned the Cy Young Award years for each pitcher, so we'll take a moment to see what kind of production a ground ball pitcher has to reach in order to have a Cy Young type year.

So, if Carmona is going to be a Cy Young caliber pitcher, he'll need to come somewhere close to the numbers above (notice that I threw in Webb's stats from this year since it looks like he has a very good chance of winning the Cy Young this season). If we apply the same trends displayed by Webb and Maddux to Carmona's minor league numbers, then we can determine if and when Carmona might be able to compete for MLB's top pitching award (I also project Webb's stats along the same lines of Maddux to make things a little cleaner).

The first thing to point out about Carmona's stats is that the giant spike you see at the age of 24 are his actual stats from this year. It seems completely out of line with Webb and Maddux's numbers, but Carmona has only appeared in 12 games this year, and injuries have also been an issue, so I'm not really concerned about him or the inflated stats.

What I am interested in is the numbers projected for Carmona from the age of 25 up to 32 and possibly beyond. Between his walk rates and ground ball rates, Carmona should be a Cy Young caliber pitcher even with slightly lower strike out rates than Maddux and Webb. That doesn't mean he'll definitely win a Cy Young Award during those years, but he'll likely perform at a level equivalent to a ground ball inducing Cy Young Award winner. Once again, it's not a guarantee, but he has the potential to do so.
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