In 2013, Brandon McCarthy pitched 135 innings, going 5-11 with a 4.53 ERA. When the Diamondbacks signed him before the 2013 season, they knew that it was unlikely the right-handed would pitch a full season. McCarthy had pitched more than 140 innings only once in the majors, and logged only 111 innings in 2012. But, with a career ERA of 4.10, the idea was that McCarthy was going to be an effective, middle of the rotation guy when healthy. Most recently, his statistics in Oakland were impressive, with a 3.32 ERA in 2011, and 3.24 in 2012. Oakland’s Coliseum is known to be pitcher-friendly, but even after adjusting for the ballpark McCarthy had an ERA at least 20% better than league average each season. But last season McCarthy finished with an ERA 16% lower than league average. The question is: what happened in 2013? In order to draw conclusions about 2013, we look to McCarthy’s two seasons in Oakland for answers.
Although the ERAs were similar in 2011 and 2012, other numbers indicate that McCarthy’s performance declined between his first and second years in Oakland. His xFIP jumped from 3.30 to 4.23. One explanation for the deceptively similar earned run averages lies behind his LOB%, or percentage of runners left on base. in 2012, McCarthy left over 77% of runners stranded. That is well above league average, which indicates McCarthy had luck on his side in 2012. Almost every number besides ERA trended downward for the righty. He gave up more walks, hits, and home runs per nine innings. The increase in homers can be attributed in part to bad luck, but he also coaxed less groundballs in 2012. Brandon McCarthy was less effective in 2012 than in 2011, but good fortune produced similar ERAs in the two years.
Looking at the same advanced statistics, 2013 does not seem like an outlier, despite what the ERA and win-loss record indicate. He walked only 1.4 per 9 in 2013, less than 1.9 in 2012. His strikeout rate declined by .8 per 9, which is worrisome but not alarming. The most surprising statistic was that the righty gave up a career high 10.7 hits per nine innings. It’s easy to look at opponents’ batting average on balls in play against McCarthy, .325, and say that he ran into bad luck in 2013. The league average for BABIP is generally around .300, and opponents had a BABIP of .295 and .296 during his two years Oakland. Even McCarthy attributed his struggles to bad luck at times, saying “I hate putting this on it, but it’s been a pretty solid mix of terrible luck and bad execution at the worst time,” after a few bad outings early in 2013. By taking his BABIP and xFIP of 3.77, it seems that McCarthy was simply unlucky this past season.
The real anomaly for Brandon McCarthy was 2011. He pitched over 170 innings and struck out almost 6.5 batter per nine. It seems more likely than McCarthy is the pitcher we saw in 2012 and 2013, which is basically a league-average pitcher for somewhere between 110 and 140 innings a season. In 2013 Brandon McCarthy was not a disappointment. He may have run into a bit of bad luck, but overall, he gave exactly the performance that was expected.
For the Steamer projections for 2014, Jeff’s piece is a good read.
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