Special thanks to Brandon McCarthy for taking the time to walk me through his experiences as a pitcher, and providing me with countless insights I never would have discovered researching on my own.
There has been plenty of ink spilt this season over Justin Verlander’s American League MVP candidacy, and he is a shoo-in for the AL Cy Young Award. A large part of the narrative is the 24 wins, but one would assume that all the gushing means he had one of the most dominant pitching seasons of the last decade. However, when controlling for run environment, Dave Cameron notes that the last two AL Cy Young winners, Zack Greinke and Felix Hernandez, had better ERA’s relative to league average than Verlander. Moving on to the advanced stats, Verlander did not even lead the league in FIP in 2011. Neither did his nearest competitor for the award, CC Sabathia. It was in fact Brandon McCarthy of the Oakland Athletics.
In 2010, McCarthy was a 26 year-old pitcher with 372.2 Major League innings under his belt toiling away in Oklahoma City, AAA affiliate of the Texas Rangers. He had been cut from the big league club following a rough Spring Training, and was toying with his mechanics and pitch repertoire, all while battling micro stress fractures in his right shoulder. Injuries limited him to 56.1 innings that season, and while the 3.36 ERA looked tidy, a 79.9% strand rate masked a less impressive 4.23 FIP. As a pitcher who is in tune with defense independent statistics and had experienced severe arm injuries four years in a row, McCarthy said “it was at that point that I was going to have to start considering my options outside of baseball.” A year later, he was the American League FIP leader. To figure out this transformation, let’s travel back in time.
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