Brandon McCarthy Is Bulking Up

When we last talked to Brandon McCarthy, he was looking for a change-up. He didn’t find it. But he did find what he hopes will be the key to a successful — and full — season this year: Bulk.

After an offseason that included some work on the change, the pitch was still one McCarthy “could get beat on,” he told me last week. It’s still something he’d like to include if can figure out “a way to unlock it.” But it’s hard to work on that sort of thing during the regular season, which means he doesn’t anticipate this year will be the year.

Could he throw the sinker, which has arm-side run, at different speeds, to replicate a change-up? After says Trevor Cahill can do that sort of thing, McCarthy thought it was too tough for him to manage because of the modulation of his arm speed. “Kids in rookie ball struggle” with maintaining arm speed, McCarthy said, “but you just train them out of it.” You can tell those pitchers to throw a change in every 1-1 count, or fine them if they don’t throw enough of them. In the bigs, when all you’ve got are side sessions and bullpens, “you’ve got to work on what you’re good at, not some side project.”

For now, the curve will be his change-of-pace. It’s almost a round-house curve, after all, and those have smaller platoon splits. And consider this: Since 2012, McCarthy has gotten a higher whiff rates (10% versus 8%) and ground-ball rates (60% versus 45%) from his curve when he’s used it against lefties (according The pitch also has a higher foul rate from lefties, which doesn’t surprise McCarthy. “Typically, you’re trying to back-foot it, bounce it right there so that he pulls it.”

About that Colorado thing real quick. “That was the first time I let the visuals of not seeing your pitch do enough get to me,” McCarthy said of his disaster at Coors Field. His two-seamer wasn’t moving in the bullpen so he tried to throw it harder and mucked with his grip. “Instead of me going the other way and thinking I’m just going to go down and stay under the zone, I artificially tried to create sink,” McCarthy said. ” It didn’t work out.

But take a look at McCarthy’s velocity and you’ll see a change. His velocity is up to the highest we’ve seen since we started tracking velocity, and three starts in, the data is fairly sturdy. Everything works better with gas — 2 mph of velocity could be worth anywhere from half-a-run to two-thirds of a run per game off the ledger.

How did the pitcher manage this? “I just tried lift a lot; a lot heavier,” he says. And the change won’t remain in the offseason as he eats his way through a bag of Cheetos between starts. He’s upped his in-season training regimen, too.

The velocity is nice, he’ll admit, but this wasn’t about his velocity coming into the season. This was about stamina, and about the wear and tear of a season. Listen to him talk about what a year in the majors does him:

“You can feel your body weakening. You can wake up and feel you lost three pounds overnight. That same belt buckle doesn’t work. You’ve lost that feeling of power. It screws with you mentally. By the end, it was just a flickering light, this is all I can do.”

This is what that flickering light looks like. See the last few games last year, when he barely cracked 90 mph?

McC velo

There’s a near-yearly occurrence for McCarthy over his career: the trip to the disabled list for a shoulder issue. Frustrating is the fact that MRI exams aren’t showing anything. “It’s always just a slow build, it’s an accumulation of fatigue,” McCarthy says. He’s hoping his bulk, and his new in-season regimen, will help him get past that lull this year.

When McCarthy talks about his current physical and mental strength, of course the line-drive to the head factors in. But it’s not about flinching when he lets the ball loose. Once again it’s about weight and stamina, in this case, weight and stamina lost due to time he spent in the hospital. “I spent a month on my couch,” he said of 2012’s fall. “Usually it’s within three weeks that you’re back in the weight room.” By the time he got out of the hospital, off the couch and back up to speed, he’d lost almost two months of lifting time. That meant he wasn’t “playing with any surplus” in 2013, and he was done by the season’s end.

The season is a slog. It wears down the toughest and the strongest baseball players. Add in a major injury and screw up an offseason training regimen, and it’s not surprising McCarthy had one of his worst seasons last year.

The good news is he spent his offseason building up that surplus, and he has a plan to avoid wearing down. All it took was time. Time to get bigger and stronger.

With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.

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Rafael Palmeiro
8 years ago

Careful Brandon. Bulking up with the wrong stuff could lead to a problem with long balls.

Greg Maddux
8 years ago

But.. I thought chicks dig the long balls?