Brandon McCarthy's Rebirth Keying Yankees' Defiant Postseason Chase

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Brandon McCarthy's Rebirth Keying Yankees' Defiant Postseason Chase
Kathy Willens/Associated Press

Where would the Yankees be right now if not for Brandon McCarthy?

With CC Sabathia and Ivan Nova out for the season with injuries, and Masahiro Tanaka on the disabled list attempting to stave off Tommy John surgery, the Yankees decided to acquire McCarthy from the Arizona Diamondbacks on July 6 in exchange for left-hander Vidal Nuno.

Since then, McCarthy, 31, has provided much-needed stability to a depleted Yankees rotation, going 4-1 with a 2.21 ERA and 36-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 36.2 innings over six starts. Meanwhile, his performance has allowed the team to stay in the postseason hunt, as they’re currently 61-57 overall and chasing the Tigers for a Wild Card by only three games.

At face value, the right-hander’s season isn’t particularly impressive; he’s lost 11 of his 24 starts, allowed 171 hits in 146.1 innings and owns an overall ERA of 4.31. However, a deeper look McCarthy’s numbers this year tells a much different story.

For example, though McCarthy sports a 4.31 ERA, his FIP (fielding-independent pitching) currently sits at 3.54, while his xFIP (expected FIP) is an even more impressive 2.84. Meanwhile, the right-hander’s 7.93 strikeouts-per-nine-innings rate and 55.9 percent ground-ball rate represent career highs, and his 1.60 walks-per-nine-innings rate is well below his career average of 2.29.

So, what’s made McCarthy so successful this season?

To put it simply, the veteran right-hander has re-invented himself.

McCarthy is throwing his four-seam fastball the most he has since 2009 (10.54 percent) and has increased his sinker (or two-seam fastball) usage to over 50 percent (50.53 percent, to be exact) for the first time in his career, per Brooks Baseball.

McCarthy is also throwing harder than he has at any point in his nine-year career and not just with his fastballs:

Courtesy of BrooksBaseball.net

The right-hander’s four-seam fastball is averaging 94.46 mph this year, up nearly 1 mph compared to his 2013 average, while his sinker is registering more than 2 mph hotter at 93.92 mph. Overall, he’s had far more success this season with the four-seamer, as opposing hitters are batting an embarrassing .105 against the pitch and slugging just .164.

McCarthy also is using his curveball 23.6 percent of the time this season, which also marks a career high, and he's throwing it more than 3 mph harder than he did last year.

Brandon McCarthy's Career Pitch Usage (Percentages)
Year Team Fourseam Sinker Changeup Slider Curveball Cutter Splitter
2007 Rangers 7.90 0.00 16.34 1.67 6.90 0.00 4.76
2008 Rangers 7.94 4.20 14.75 0.00 3.13 0.00 0.00
2009 Rangers 5.36 4.32 11.11 0.00 0.00 10.91 0.00
2011 A's 0.65 38.40 39.25 0.00 18.82 0.20 2.68
2012 A's 0.00 33.14 44.81 0.00 18.72 0.00 3.33
2013 DBacks 1.33 44.26 34.58 0.00 14.96 4.20 0.67
2014 DBacks/Yankees 10.54 50.53 13.60 0.00 23.60 0.93 0.00

Brooks Baseball

Furthermore, McCarthy has moved away from his cutter since the start of the 2012 season, throwing it just 13.6 percent of the time this season compared to 44.81 percent just two years ago. Meanwhile, he’s totally abandoned his splitter, a pitch that was featured prominently in his arsenal in previous years.

The results have been staggering.

If the season ended today, McCarthy would finish with the highest whiff rates of his career with his four-seam fastball (15.55 percent), sinker (7.8) and curveball (11.26). And according to FanGraphs, the right-hander’s 8.2 percent swinging-strike rate is his highest since 2006, when he was still a member of the Rangers.

Personally, I think the Brandon McCarthy we’ve seen with the Yankees over the last month is the same pitcher we’ll see over the remainder of the regular season. I say this because the scouting reports teams have on McCarthy from the first half of the season (and previous seasons) no longer apply. The right-hander is a different pitcher this year with better velocity and therefore a different approach to his pitch selections.

The Yankees need the 31-year-old McCarthy to keep anchoring the starting rotation if they plan on reaching the playoffs this year. However, even if the rest of his season doesn’t unfold as expected, the soon-to-be free agent will at least have boosted his stock headed into the offseason.

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