Everybody loves Brandon McCarthy. He’s great on twitter and understands and/or embraces advanced statistics and seems like an all-around swell dude. He just signed a two-year, $15 Mil deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks and every team blogger is super bummed, as 28 other teams wished their team will brought McCarthy into the fold.
After a horrific injury cut his season short in 2012, Brandon McCarthy represents a good cheap buy for an opportunistic GM like Kevin Towers in Arizona. Considering McCarthy pitched to a 2.86 FIP in 2011, signing him for the same dollars and years as Joe Blanton looks like a major bargain. Except for one, unavoidable thing: he is a huge risk for any team.
That Brandon McCarthy got even two years is something of a surprise. Brandon McCarthy, for all his exploits as one of the more cererbral and engagaing players in the league, is basically always hurt. Since 2008, McCarthy has not even made 70 starts. Shoulder troubles limited him 2012, 2011, and 2010. A sore forearm kept him out of most of 2008.
It is difficult to consider the track record of Brandon McCarthy as he all but re-invented himself ahead of the 2011 season. Studying Pitch f/x and sabremetric principles caused McCarthy to all but ditch his four seamer, looking instead to limit home runs and walks while emphasizing ground balls by instituting a cutter/sinker approach in lieu of a more tradition attack.
As such, Brandon McCarthy’s struggles to be anything more than a league-average pitcher in his distant past don’t really inform his future in Arizona. Of greater concern to fans of the Diamondbacks are the everpresent health concerns and the dramatic shift in pitching environments when moving from Oakland to Arizona.
Home runs come fast and furious at superheated Chase Field in Phoenix, not to mention stepping down the quality of the defense behind him, as Keith Law points out ($). By that same token, the upcoming reunion with former A’s teammate Trevor Cahill shows that a good groundball pitcher can transition from the vast expanses for O.co without much strain. Cahill actually lowered his home run rate in 2012 and increased his already stellar ground ball rate, posting the best numbers of his career after moving the NL West.
Arizona may well be the best possible landing spot for McCarthy. The Diamondbacks have enough depth in their starting rotation that they don’t need to rely on the 6’7 righty to make 35 starts. Ian Kennedy, the aforementioned Cahill, Rookie of the Year runner-up Wade Miley, and the youthful trio of Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs, and Patrick Corbin are all viable options, not to mention 2011 standout Daniel Hudson, due to return from elbow surgery later in the year.
The three young pitchers provide injury insurance as well as trade fodder for a team desperate to upgrade its shortstop position while dangling its most attractive trade chip in Justin Upton. The Diamondbacks are not going to let the incumbent Giants and free-spending Dodgers run away and hide in the NL West, and the bounty of hurlers gives them plenty of ammo in this arms race.
As GM Towers told Nick Piecoro of the Arizona Republic today, “if we get 150 to 170 innings out of him with the pitching depth that we have, we should be in a good place.” The Diamondbacks are in the enviable position to allow Skaggs, Bauer, and Corbain fight it out for the fifth spot, secure in the knowledge that any of the three could be called on to spell McCarthy should his troublesome shoulder flare up again.
Two years is a risk for a pitcher with the track record of McCarthy but one the Diamondbacks can afford to take. If healthy, he provides them with more innings comparable to the best on their staff. If injuries hold him back, they can take what they get from the King of Twitter without overextending themselves financially. And that’s what it is all about, right? Not winning the World Series and adding excellent pitcher – making sure each and every transaction nets a marginal surplus value for the corporate ownership. It’s the name of the game!