In this particular "Division Debate" battle, we've got a matchup of two pitchers with unbelievable stuff.
Both Fausto Carmona of the Indians and Justin Verlander of the Tigers had remarkable seasons in their first full year, 2007, as starters.
Yet last year, they suffered through early-career growing pains. Here is the Division Debate prompt:
Both the Indians and Tigers dealt with bullpen issues in 2008, a central point of frustration for two of the AL’s most disappointing teams. They also had their own problems with a few starting pitchers, the Indians with Fausto Carmona and the Tigers with Justin Verlander. One was injured and had a lack of control; the other just had a lack of control. Which starter will bounce back for a better season in 2009?
I'll be taking the side of Fausto Carmona and his ability to bounce back. If you'd like to read the Justin Verlander defense, check out Austin Drake's article.
There is always something telling about statistics. While they don't tell the entire story, they certainly can give you some insight as to why a player struggled or succeeded in the past.
Take a look at some of the statistics that I’m focusing on for both pitchers these past few years. You’ll notice I’m not taking stock of wins or ERA; my analysis strictly focuses on these particular numbers:
Fausto Carmona (2007): 32 GS, 215 IP, 199 H, 61 BB, 137 K, 11 HBP, 5 WP
Fausto Carmona (2008): 22 GS, 120 IP, 126 H, 70 BB, 58 K, 9 HBP, 8 WP
Carmona in 2007 had a total of 77, what I like to call, "lack-of-control" statistics. That's walks, batters hit, and wild pitches combined. We'll call this collective number the "total LC."
I'll now take that number and find the average over the innings pitched to make sure nothing is skewed in terms of how many innings the player pitched in. This will be simply the "LC average."
Carmona had .36 LC per inning in 2007. In 2008, that number skyrocketed to .73 per inning. His total LC in 2008 even topped what he had in 2007 by 10.
His control was a huge problem in 2008; the 2007 number is more representative of what kind of a pitcher he is.
Now let's take a look at Justin Verlander:
Justin Verlander, 2006: 30 GS, 186 IP, 187 H, 60 BB, 124 K, 6 HBP, 5 WP
Justin Verlander, 2007: 32 GS, 201 IP, 181 H, 67 BB, 183 K, 19 HBP, 18 WP
Justin Verlander, 2008: 33 GS, 201 IP, 195 H, 86 BB, 163 K, 14 HBP, 6 WP
Verlander's LC numbers for those three years:
2006: .38, 71 total
2007: .52, 104 total
2008: .53, 106 total
What strikes you most about the difference in these numbers?
Carmona's LC difference between his two years is .37. Verlander's difference between his best and worst years is .15.
That could be spun in good or bad ways for either guy.
Here's the one I'm putting on it, to contend that Carmona has the better chance of bouncing back:
His "good" is a lot better than his "bad." Verlander's "good" isn't that much different than his "bad," in terms of control.
Verlander's way of pitching is steady: He's supposed to hover around that .40 area in terms of LC. He's a strikeout pitcher and wants players to swing at his stuff.
He's probably not going to walk as many hitters as he did in 2008, but his WP and HBP numbers will probably be more along the lines of what he did in 2007 and 2008 (not 2006).
Fausto Carmona walked way too many hitters in 2008, way above what he's supposed to. Carmona's game plan involves getting you to swing at bad pitches, be them out-of-the-zone for strikeouts, or ones that hitters simply can't do anything with. Carmona wants the ground ball.
This isn't to say Verlander's game is bad; indeed, he's a fantastic pitcher. But his statistics indicate that he probably will continue along the lines of what he did in 2007 and 2008 (though hopefully not quite as bad as 2008).
Put it this way: Verlander could probably pitch the same way for four years, and come out with numbers like he’s had in the past. Good ERA and a high win total, but if the team around him isn’t stout or he has some bad luck, he could slip.
Carmona's statistics indicate that he suffered from a lack of game plan execution or bad mechanics. He, unlike Verlander, could pitch his game and get consistent results like he did in 2007.
Carmona's 2008 Struggles
I can confirm many of these beliefs with the following observations of Carmona's struggles. I can't speak for Justin Verlander, as I didn't watch all 33 games he pitched in. But I have seen just about every single one of Carmona's 54 starts the past two years.
Carmona's struggles can be pinned on lack of control. The statistics I provided you with earlier prove a lot of that. The root of those struggles is in mechanics and inability to execute his game plan.
Executing his game plan also depends on who's calling the game behind the plate.
Carmona didn't have the familiarity with Kelly Shoppach that he did with Victor Martinez.
If you talk to any of the four people involved in the process (manager Eric Wedge, pitching coach Carl Willis, Carmona, and Martinez), they'll all tell you that Martinez is Carmona's guy.
Martinez "gets" Carmona, and he knows how to call the game when Fausto's pitching. He knows the perfect spot to place his glove to get the perfect result or effect of a Carmona pitch.
He also knows when Carmona needs settling down. Fausto has admitted that he has a tendency to rush, but that's something that Martinez has been able to control masterfully.
You also have to believe the language barrier for Carmona and Shoppach was probably more of an issue than it was for Carmona and Martinez.
Another thing is health. Both Carmona and Martinez battled injuries in 2008, so they rarely were able to link up as they did in 2007. Carmona was in and out of the rotation with pains that could have really impacted the way he pitched. A hip pointer really made him look tentative for awhile, as if he couldn't pitch his game to its fullest for fear of aggravating an injury.
That could toy with mechanics.
That was a definite problem, according to Carl Willis, last year. It was something that Willis and even new bullpen coach Chuck Hernandez have chipped away at. Carmona's mechanics should be much improved in 2009.
I can't speak for Justin Verlander, or his game, but I can speak for Fausto Carmona's. His stuff is great for striking out hitters, so it is possible that he can walk hitters if the man at the plate is disciplined enough, but generally, his stuff is too nasty to even hold up.
Last year, the difference between Carmona striking someone out or walking them could be inches of Kelly Shoppach's glove placement.
It's as simple as that.
With his normal catcher behind the plate, good health, and fixed mechanics, Carmona is right on track to put up a full year closer to what he did in 2007 than what happened in 2008.
That isn't to say Justin Verlander won't improve from his shaky 2008, but if I have to put money one guy, I'm taking Fausto Carmona every day of the week.