What Shane Carle Does With His Days

You do something with your days, I think. You must. You get up in the morning, stretch out your arms and legs, blink a few times, maybe check your phone for a few minutes. (Try not to, though! Screen addiction is a real problem!) Then get up and do something with your day until, not that many hours later, you fall asleep in your nice warm bed and do it all over again.

Imagine this, though: imagine if, one day, you woke up and found that you were doing that thing — the thing you do with your days — better than you’ve ever done it before. Better, in fact, than most people have ever done it. That would be great, right? That’s a little bit of what’s been happening to Shane Carle recently, day over day, a little bit at a time.

You may not know who Shane Carle is, so let’s run over the resume. First of all, he’s a player with the Atlanta Braves — a reliever, in fact. He’s 26 years old. He’s 6-foot-4 and weighs 210 pounds. He’s a rookie. He throws a fastball, a changeup, a slider, and a curveball — in roughly that order of frequency. And this is where Carle is already a bit different: not many major-league relievers throw four pitches well with any regularity. If they do, they’re often encouraged to become major-league starters. But Carle is a major-league reliever. And we’re getting distracted. Let’s continue with the resume.

Carle was selected out of Cal State-Long Beach in the 10th round of the 2013 draft, by the Pirates. He wasn’t bad for the Pirates, but he wasn’t especially good, either, and he didn’t strike out very many people, even at High-A. The Pirates are pretty good at developing pitching, and after the 2014 season, they decided they didn’t want to develop Shane Carle anymore. He was traded to the Rockies, and despite exhibiting little more promise than the year before — at least on paper — he’d been promoted to Triple-A Albuquerque by the end of 2015.

And when he got there, something happened that’s had very important consequences for Shane Carle’s present: he started to strike people out. In Triple-A in 2015, Carle struck out 4.5 batters for every nine innings he threw. In that same league in 2016, he struck out 7.1 batters for every nine innings he threw. And this year, for the Atlanta Braves, against real major-league hitters, Carle has struck out 17 batters in fewer than 20 innings, and he’s got the fifth-most relief WAR of any pitcher in baseball. Here is some visual interest:

That’s Joey Votto swinging through a Shane Carle changeup, which ended its path through the air very nearly in the exact center of the strike zone. Now, Votto isn’t having a great year, by his standards, but he still makes contact nearly 85% of the time when he swings at pitches in the zone. He swings at things he thinks he can hit, and he hits them. He thought he could hit this pitch. He couldn’t. Here is some more visual interest:

That’s Scott Schebler swinging through a Shane Carle curveball. It’s not as exciting as the Votto thing, because it’s Scott Schebler swinging and not Votto, but it’s still a nice pitch. That moving picture is from the same game as the other one. I think it’s pretty neat. There are some things on which Carle will need to work, of course — for one thing, his arm action is distinct enough on the two pitches that big-league hitters are going to be able to tell what’s coming in advance sooner rather than later — but for now we’re faced with a situation where a big man in command of four pitches is standing on a mound in Atlanta and getting people out.

Looking into the nitty gritty of Carle’s season, there are indications he’s going to continue doing that, as well. Nothing about his velocity or movement seems to have changed dramatically in the last two years, and he’s allowing fly balls at about the rate he always has. This doesn’t seem to be entirely a luck thing. Instead, Carle has been a little bit more successful at staying in the bottom of the zone than he was in previous years (his changeup used to ride up a bit), which has probably helped his impressive arsenal play up to somewhere a little bit closer to its full capacity and that he’s managed to harmonize his release point on the three offspeed pitches such that they’re harder to distinguish out of the hand.

If you ask me — which I suppose you did, implicitly, by reading this far into the piece — I’d guess this is a case of a guy learning, over the course of five years on the job, how to go about his business to the best of his ability, and seeing significantly improved success as a result. This is one of the things I love about baseball — that that kind of thing can happen. We haven’t really spent any time on this site writing about Carle before — a little mention here and there, is all. BP gave Carle one line in the 2017 Annual, and it wasn’t a glowing line, either. And yet here he is, empirically one of the most productive relievers in the game for the first six weeks of the 2018 season. Baseball is weird, and great.

It could, of course, all come crashing down. Maybe that changeup is lingering in Joey Votto’s head, and the next one Carle throws to him will end up in the Ohio river. Maybe not. I don’t think Carle will end the year as one of the most valuable relievers in the game. For one thing, he may have hurt himself last Tuesday, and there’s a possibility whatever that injury is will reduce his performance going forward. For another, hitters will almost certainly adjust to some degree, and he’ll have to prove he can adjust his approach right back. That might hold him back. So I don’t think this is an “emerging star” situation. But Carle does appear to have turned himself into an above-average big-league reliever and has all the tools necessary to keep himself there. Taken together or separately, those are both impressive accomplishments. Let’s see what’s next.

Rian Watt is a contributor to FanGraphs based in Seattle. His work has appeared at Vice, Baseball Prospectus, The Athletic, FiveThirtyEight, and some other places too. By day, he works with communities around the world to end homelessness.

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4 years ago

If this guy can keep throwing 4 pitches for strikes with some consistency, why not stretch him out? His delivery looks rather easy and he has enough pitches to keep hitters off balance for at least 3 times through.