For those of you who conspire to the Pitch and Innings Counts Are Hogwash Theory, here’s a quick update on Cleveland Indians aces Fausto Carmona and C.C. Sabathia.
Last season, in the process of finishing with the best record in baseball and nearly reaching the World Series, LeBron’s second favorite team rode its two best starters hard. And I mean hard.
Sabathia, on his way to winning the Cy Young over stiff competition, threw 48.1 more innings than the previous year, and 31 innings more than his career high, set five seasons prior. In fact, Sabathia hadn’t topped 200 since his career-high 210 innings in 2002. And we’re talking pre-postseason numbers here. Forget the 15.1 gassed innings he threw to the tune of an 8.80 ERA against the best the AL East had to offer in the playoffs.
His co-ace and failed closer turned dominant starter, Fausto Carmona, made Sabathia’s incredible 48.1 inch vertical leap seem routine, even for a man with a listed weight of 290 pounds.
Carmona unleashed enough darting sinkers and killer off-speed deliveries in 2007 to post a sexy 3.06 ERA in 215 Major League innings at a mere 23 years of age. Factor in additional postseason pitches and the young Dominican becomes a prime candidate for regression and injury in 2008 and beyond. Before his initial callup last season Carmona’s career had followed a sound progression. From 2003-2005, Fausto’s innings climbed by an average of slightly under 10 per year, up to 173.2 the season before he was summoned to help the big club. Unfortunately, here’s where the planned faltered. Had Carmona entered the starting rotation and thrown 185-190 innings in 2006, he could have reasonably thrown the 215 he unfurled at unfortunate hitters in 2007. But, when the bullpen self-destructed two years ago, Carmona was thrust into the roll of closer, which set back his eventual rise to acedom and helped David Ortiz add to his ever-growing mystique.
The result was a tally of only 102.1 innings in 2006, meaning last year Carmona leapt an astounding 112.2 frames from his previous season, and 41.1 over his career high. Again, none of this even takes into consideration the tremendous stress of pitching in October–when he pitched allowed 13 hits, 12 walks, and 12 earned runs in notching only 45 outs.
Consequently, both cornerstones of the Indians’ title chances are struggling.
Sabathia’s issues can’t be ignored, and might cost him heaps of millions of dollars in free agency this winter. The lefty of lofty largesse has a 7.51 ERA, a 1.77 WHIP, and 37 strikeouts versus 18 bases on balls in 38.1 innings. Not quite the guy with a 5.65 K/BB ratio the year before.
Carmona’s struggles are less easily picked up by the untrained eye. In 39.2 innings he’s permitted 40 hits and 31 walks, compared with only 15 punchouts. Last year he notched a 2.25 K/BB ratio to go with his dominant 3.28 ground ball to fly ball ratio. This year he’s still forcing hitters to pound the ball into the ground, with an exceptional 3.71 rating, but his solid 2.95 ERA hinders more on luck than his performance. Carmona has given up only one homerun in 2008, an absurdly low total given an opponents batting average of .276. When lady luck leaves Carmona, his low ERA will do the same. An opponents on-base percentage of .408 does not bode well.
Likely comeback player of the year Cliff Lee could be the next to feel the wrath of an overwhelming innings leap on the shores of Lake Eerie.
There’s always a chance that Carmona convinces his lady to stay with him for the remainder of the year, or that Sabathia “makes adjustments” and regains his 2007 form, but most likely we’re looking at a lost season for the Indians’ two best starters, and probably the team, which sits at two games under .500 in early May. All this after World Series prognostications from many during Spring Training. Fortunately for Cleveland, Cliff Lee has returned to Lake-side, and with him brought his rotationmates some relief, but after throwing only 145.1 three-out-sessions of his own last season, the cycle in Cleveland might just be turning itself over.