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Carlos Carrasco: Top 5 Starter in 2016?

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Ray profiles Indians ace Carlos Carrasco and takes a look at whether her could be a top 5 starter in 2016.

David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

The Indians acquired starter Carlos Carrasco, along with three players who are no longer in baseball, Lou Marson, Jason Knapp and Jason Donald, for Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco. At the time, Carrasco was still a prospect, and was ranked among the top 50 prospects in the game according to Baseball America.Between 2009 and 2013, Carrasco was shuttled up and down between the big league club and the minors, until his mini-breakout season in 2014, where he made 40 appearances, 14 of them starts in the Indians rotation, finally showing the promise and skills many thought he had five years prior.

Last season, was Carrasco's breakout season, as he made 30 starts, going 14-12 with a 3.63 ERA, 2.84 FIP, 2.66 xFIP, and a 1.07 WHIP while striking out 10.58 batters per nine innings, limiting walks to just over two walks per innings and inducing ground balls at a 51% rate. His ERA did not reflect how dominant he was last season. Among qualified starters, only four starter struck out more batters per nine innings than Carrasco, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Chris Sale and Chris Archer. Among qualified starters who struck out more than a batter per inning, he is one of six who induced ground balls at a 50% or better clip.

His 29.6% K% ranked fourth among qualified starters last season, with the aforementioned Kershaw, Sale and Scherzer ahead of him. His 23.7% K%-BB% also ranked fourth in the game last season, with the same three starters ranking ahead of him. His 2.66 xFIP ranked fourth in the game as well. I think you see where I am going with this.

Carrasco ranks in good company in all of the advanced pitching statistics, joining the elite starting pitchers in the game. His strikeout rate, K%, K%-BB% and xFIP all rank among the elite starters in the game. His second half advanced statistics were even better, ranking in the top 2-3 in each.

What separates Carrasco from the elite aces in the game is that he was far more hittable than the elite starters. In other words, he was a bit unlucky as his .304 batting average of balls in play indicates. He pitched to a 4.04 ERA, 2.80 FIP, 2.84 xFIP in the first half last season, but was much better in the second half, pitching to a 2.99 ERA, 2.90 FIP, and 2.40 xFIP. I bring all this up as Carrasco's ERA lined up much better to his advanced statistics in the second half last season, and part of that could be attributed to the Indians calling up shortstop Francisco Lindor.

With Lindor manning shortstop for the Indians every day this season, Carrasco's fantasy performance could line up much better with what the advanced statistics indicate.

What can we expect from Carrasco in 2016? Let's take a look at what the best projection systems in the business are projecting for him, courtesy of FanGraphs:

Season

Team

W

L

GS

IP

K/9

BB/9

HR/9

BABIP

LOB%

GB%

HR/FB

ERA

FIP

xFIP

WAR

2014

Indians

8

7

14

134

9.4

1.95

0.47

0.274

75.90%

52.80%

7.10%

2.55

2.44

2.66

3.2

2015

Indians

14

12

30

183.2

10.58

2.11

0.88

0.304

71.80%

51.20%

13.20%

3.63

2.84

2.66

4.8

2016

Steamer

13

9

31

188

9.56

2.3

0.77

0.292

74.30%

3.04

2.99

4.8

2016

ZiPS

14

8

27

172.3

10.08

2.04

0.78

0.311

74.50%

3.08

2.79

4.8

ZiPS and Steamer are projecting him to be the same pitcher he was last season according to WAR, but with a lower ERA. Ron Shandler;s Baseball Forecaster is pretty much in line with ZiPS and Steamer, projecting him to win 15 games with a 3.25 ERA and striking out nearly ten batters per nine innings.

Carrasco is currently the 16th pitcher off draft board according to his NFBC ADP. He was auctioned for $24 in the LABR AL only experts league auction last night, with only five AL starters going for a higher auction price, Chris Sale, David Price, teammate Corey Kluber, Felix Hernandez and Dallas Keuchel.

Carrasco could prove to be a bargain at $24 and at his current NFBC ADP if Lindor and recently signed third baseman Juan Uribe bring improved defense behind the Indians pitching staff in 2016. I think they will and Carrasco could be the staff ace as a result. I think he can win 14-17 games with a sub-3.00 ERA, a WHIP around 1.00 and a strikeout rate near 10.0 K/9 once again. And he could be a top 5 starter in the game as a result.