September 5, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy (32) pitches the ball against the Los Angeles Angels during the fourth inning at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE

Brandon McCarthy - Worth The Injury Risk?

It’s been a full day after the San Francisco Giants swept the Detroit Tigers in the World Series, and already there has been a buzz in the air by all 29 other teams that didn’t win it all. Speculation over what free agents are going where is the top subject of conversation for everyone in baseball. There has already been two trades completed, with the biggest news that John Farrell has finally been traded to the Red Sox. But now is the time to see how creative each of the 30 GM’s in baseball will get.

Alex Anthopoulos has always been very vague about his intentions when it comes to players, but he has made it clear this offseason (like anybody needed to be told) that the Toronto Blue Jays will need a lot of help in the starting pitching department. With the exception of Brandon Morrow and Ricky Romero, the rest of the Jays starting rotation is up in the air. Most likely AA will go after a top-of-rotation guy through free agency or by swapping for a player with some of the many top prospects at his disposal. One man’s name that has come up by a lot of baseball insiders is Brandon McCarthy.

The 29 year-old McCarthy has adapted over the years from a 4-Seam hurler to more of a 2-Seam/Cutter pitcher who adheres more to pitch movement rather than speed. While the application of a cutter in a repertoire might not get you a contract in Baltimore (where Executive VP has made a no-cutter policy), it would be more than welcome in Toronto. Those pitches tend to decrease the amount of flyballs made off of contact when a pitcher keeps the ball down, and with two Blue Jays starters in the Top 6 in HR/Fly Ball ratio last year in the AL, that type of pitching performance would be sobering to a Jays fan. In addition, McCarthy has kept the ball in the strike zone for the better part of the last two years. His 1.95 BB/9 innings last year would put him near tops in the AL had he qualified with innings pitched like he did in 2011, where his 1.32 BB/9 was 3rd best in the majors. Definitely a positive quality to have when you consider Ricky Romero lead the entire major leagues last year with 5.22 BB/9 as the Jays’ most reliable starter (when it comes to amount of innings pitched/games started). When you look further into McCarthy’s stats, everything seems in order for a quality 3-4th starter pickup for the Toronto Blue Jays. Until you consider the injury risk.

Of course when you think “Brandon McCarthy Injury” thoughts immediately point to the incident between the Angels and Athletics where McCarthy took a batted ball to the head, resulting in an epidural hemorrhage, brain contusion and a skull fracture. What was thought of to be a debilitating injury that might threaten his career, and possibly his life, is a thing of the past, as he was preparing to pitch in the playoffs had the Athletics made it past the ALDS. This injury should not be the most concerning part of the risk for picking up McCarthy, as even former Blue Jays Aaron Hill came back from a concussion that plagued him for almost an entire year to break the Blue Jays 2B HR record and win AL Comeback Player of the Year.

What is most troubling is Brandon McCarthy’s ongoing shoulder problems. Just taking a look into his extensive list of injuries over his major league career, you can see that in the past 5 seasons, McCarthy has been sidelined due to forearm and (mostly) shoulder injuries for 556 days. That equates to almost 30% of his time over the last 5 years total being injured. Here’s a breakdown of what that means to McCarthy’s performance during the past 5 MLB seasons.

Brandon McCarthy

Year Innings Pitched Games Started fWAR Team
2012 111 IP 18 1.8 Athletics
2011 170.2 IP 25 4.8 Athletics
2010 N/A N/A N/A Rangers (minors)
2009 97.1 IP 17 1.4 Rangers
2008 22 IP 5 0.2 Rangers

As you can see, McCarthy does provide value when he does pitch for most of the season, especially providing a 4.8 fWAR in 2011. However, it was only after providing his 5th year of MLB service did McCarthy pitch anywhere close to that of an expected starter of around 170+ innings. The Toronto Blue Jays are looking to add starters that can both win a good amount of ball games, put up great pitching performances and stay healthy as long as possible, especially now since their most promising year in ages was brought down mostly due to lengthy injuries to the starting rotation. The Jays’ top 5 starters with the most amount of games started each year have provided less and less amount of innings pitched dating back 5 years.

Year Starters Total Starters Average W-L Divis. Ranking
2012 719 IP 143.2 IP 73-89 4
2011 745 IP 149 IP 81-81 4
2010 788 IP 157.1 IP 85-77 4
2009 809.2 IP 162 IP 75-87 4
2008 906 IP 181.1 IP 86-76 4

Even with some of those years where the Jays had a winning record, they relied mostly on offense rather than pitching quality to get those wins. With Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Brett Lawrie, Colby Rasmus and a potential catching platoon of Travis d’Arnaud and J.P. Arencibia, the staff doesn’t need to focus on offense as much as they need reliable starting pitching. McCarthy is averaging roughly 80.1 Innings Pitched over the last 5 years due to his injuries, something that should be strongly considered when trying to make your starting rotation more reliable. Shoulder injuries have already decimated the once promising careers of Dustin McGowan and Jesse Litsch, why should the Jays try to push for the playoffs with yet another shoulder-injury-prone player? Unless the Jays manage to get McCarthy for a cheap, team-friendly contract as a 4th-5th starter after getting better starters during the offseason, it just doesn’t make sense for them to make that kind of risk when there are a lot more pitchers out there with All-Star stuff and relatively durable careers. If McCarthy were to injure his shoulder again, it would raise the ire of fans and media alike, questioning if Rogers management is capable of learning from their mistakes.

While the Toronto Blue Jays have stayed in 4th place in each of the past 5 years, they are looking to make it to the playoffs now. They can’t do it by either relying heavily on outslugging their opponents with lackluster pitching, nor can they rely on piecing together a starting rotation by scraping from the bottom of the roster barrel due to injuries. They need a starter that can strikeout a lot of batters per game to keep contact off the bat. They need someone that can provide an opportunity to win games more times than not. Most importantly, the Toronto Blue Jays need a starting rotation that can stay healthy for most of the year. I just don’t think that they can get all of that out of Brandon McCarthy.

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