Since the Yankees announced that they traded lefty starter Vidal Nuno to the Diamondbacks for Brandon McCarthy, the general feeling has been that the Yankees got the better of the deal but not by much. However, numbers show that this could be inaccurate.
McCarthy, 31, has struggled this season, and some of his numbers can attest to that. His ten losses are tied for the second highest total in baseball and his 5.01 ERA is far too high. On the other hand, if he is examined beyond his record and ERA, there are signs of life.
FIP (Fielder Independent Pitching) is a statistic that sabremetricians commonly site in order to gain a deeper understanding of how a pitcher gives up runs. It takes into account what a pitchers ERA would look like if the only possible results were purely controlled by the pitcher (or in other words, where fielders have no ability to affect the outcome of the play) such as home runs, walks, hit batters, and strikeouts.
According to Fangraphs’ FIP rating, McCarthy’s mark of 3.79 is above average. It would be lower except for the fact that twenty-percent of the fly balls hit off him leave the ballpark. That high a total increases the number.
Another statistic, xFIP (essentially the same thing as FIP except for the fact that this version assumes that only 10.5% of opposing hitters fly balls turn into home runs), shows that if his home run total was lower, he would have a solid ERA and probably more success.
McCarthy’s xFIP is 2.89 so far in 2014, which by Fangraphs’ standards is excellent.
Another possible knock on McCarthy is that his BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) is .345 and the league average is .290. This high total is in part due to some ineffectiveness, but bad luck has probably played a role as well.
McCarthy has never had a below average line drive percentage (league average is 20%). The closest he’s come to league average over the last four seasons was in 2011 when he was at 20.9%.
2011 is widely considered his best season so far, He went 9-9 in 25 starts with a 3.32 ERA and a 1.13 WHIP. His BABIP was 2.96
The next season (2012), saw his line drive percentage jump to 24.4. He still had a good year (8-8 with a 3.24 ERA, a 1.24 WHIP, and a .295 BABIP) despite the hike.
However, 2013 saw another jump in his line drive percentage. This time he wasn’t as successful (5-11 with a 4.53 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP).
This year, his line drive percentage has decreased a tick to 23.1. This is his lowest percentage since his solid 2011 campaign.
On top of his decreased line drive percentage, he is having career years in terms of ground ball percentage (55.3) and fly ball percentage (21.5), both of which are at least ten points better than league average.
The point is that if these numbers are his career bests and he’s not allowing as many line drives yet his BABIP is so high, there must be a higher number of balls that are finding holes or are just not being caught even though they should.
Another positive sign from McCarthy is that he’s having his best K/9 season (7.63) and a great BB/9 season (1.64).
This isn’t to say that McCarthy will be a top of the rotation starter for the Yankees, but that he will be serviceable as a back end starter which is more than can be said for Vidal Nuno.