Brandon McCarthy Getting Better In Oakland

By Tommy Rancel //

Once a highly touted pitching prospect, Brandon McCarthy has battled with injuries throughout his major league career. A reoccurring shoulder injury forced him to miss the major leagues entirely in 2010; however, he has resurfaced better than ever in 2011. Now pitching for the Oakland Athletics, McCarthy is 8-7 with a 3.41 ERA. He has thrown a career-best 142.2 innings despite missing time earlier this season once again because of his right shoulder.

While a 3.41 ERA is pretty good in its own right, McCarthy has actually pitched better. According to FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) – a metric that measures things a pitcher can control without the influence of defense: strikeouts, walks, home runs – McCarthy has been a top-10 pitcher in the American League. In fact, his 2.77 FIP is actually better than that of Justin Verlander’s. That is not to say McCarthy is the better player, but shows he has been better than his win-loss record or ERA would indicate.

McCarthy’s 6.50 K/9 is slightly below the league average of 7.08; however, his 1.39 BB/9 and 0.50 are well above them. He has faced 577 batters this season and unintentionally walked just 21 of them or 3.6%. The league average for walks is somewhere near 8%. Looking at “luck” stats like BABIP (batting average on balls in play) and HR/FB (home run-to-flyball)rate, McCarthy’s  .304 BABIP is actually higher that the .291 league average.  It is also the highest rate on his team with a minimum of 90 innings pitched.

Although it does not appear McCarthy has been lucky on balls in play, his 5.6% HR/FB rate is extremely low. It is the fourth lowest mark in the AL; however, it cannot simply be dismissed at all luck. His home ballpark – The Coliseum- is among the most pitcher-friendly in the league. According to ESPN Park factors, the stadium is 28th in home runs this season.

McCarthy has also helped keep the ball in the park with a shift in batted ball data. A former flyball pitcher, his groundball rate is over 47% this season. A change in pitch selection is likely behind the change in profile.  His home run rate will likely regress over a longer period of time; meanwhile, remember the park factors and the groundballs before simply dismissing it as good fortune.

The lanky right-hander is coming off his best start of the season. This weekend, McCarthy spun a complete-game shutout of the Seattle Mariners. In the process, he struck out 10 batters without issuing a walk. Over his last two starts, he has 20 strikeouts and 2 walks in 17 innings pitched. Because of the time missed earlier in the season, fatigue not seem to be a concern with McCarthy. With the opportunity for a handful of quality starts down the stretch, he may be someone you consider adding to your playoff roster. Owned in less than 15% of leagues, he is readily available if you need him.

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