Mets Sign D.J. Carrasco: Hardly Awful Reliever

D.J. Carrasco ain't not bad.

Anthony DiComo of Mets.com says:

In a move to fill out their near-vacant bullpen, the Mets have agreed to terms on a two-year deal with free-agent reliever D.J. Carrasco, a baseball source said Tuesday evening.

[...]

Though the Mets are wary of giving out multi-year deals this season, they were willing to do so in the case of Carrasco, whose contract is reportedly worth $2.5 million.

Carrasco made $950,000 in his first season of arbitration eligibility last year, splitting time between the Pirates and the Diamondbacks. He was a non-tender victim in Arizona this offseason and the Mets scooped him up. It might seem unnecessary to give Carrasco two years, but $2.5 million for two seasons isn't much more than $1.25 for one season, and to some extent it's a hedge against Carrasco having a decent year and then rightfully demanding quite a bit more money in 2012. If he's terrible in 2011 then the Mets can either dump him or trade him and they've wasted a million bucks. If he's even remotely useful then the Mets have a relatively inexpensive bullpen arm locked up for another season.

At first blush, Carrasco's profile doesn't leap off the page. He'll be 34 years old in April and he features a low-nineties fastball, a high-eighties cutter, and a mid-seventies curveball. He'll also mix in the occasional slider. He's never been a dominant strikeout pitcher, though he did improve a bit in that department last year, notching a career-best whiff rate of 7.5 per nine innings. He doesn't have great control, and actually walked opposing hitters more frequently in 2010 than he had in any season since 2005 (a streak of editorial convenience since Carrasco pitched in Japan in 2006 and in the minors with the White Sox in 2007).

Two things stand out on the positive side of the ledger for Carrasco. The first is his tendency to keep the ball on the ground and, by extension, in the ballpark. Merely decent strikeout and walk rates coupled with an above average home run rate can add up to a pretty solid reliever. Ground ball pitchers limit not only home runs in particular but also extra-base hits in general--grounders are less likely to find gaps than their airborne brethren. Too, more ground balls usually mean more double plays, so that's another bonus.

The second point in Carrasco's favor, albeit an ethereal one, is that he was pretty effective against lefties in 2010, which is exceedingly rare for right-handed pitchers. Unfortunately, Carrasco hasn't historically been very good against left-handed hitters, and was awful against them in 2009 (.317/.392/.463). He did throw far more curveballs last season than ever before, but it's not clear how that would have served him well against lefties.

The bottom line, though, is that Carrasco has probably been an above-average pitcher over the past three season.

Year FIP lgFIP
2008 2.96 4.23
2009 3.46 4.22
2010 3.74 3.99

lgFIP is a quick-and-dirty MLB FIP average for relievers (I clumsily averaged the individual team reliever FIPs). Even if that calculation is off a bit it's clear that Carrasco has been approximately an average pitcher -- or better -- since 2008. If he continues that trend for the next two seasons the Mets will be getting a league-average reliever for just over a million bucks a year. That's a pretty good value, especially for someone who will only be expected to eat up some bullpen innings, not anchor a relief corps.

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