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Despite rough debut, Rockies' Matt Carasiti still has needed skill for bullpen

Matt Carasiti is more than useless. In fact he may have a (very) specific role to play in the future.

MLB: Chicago Cubs at Colorado Rockies Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

That Matt Carasiti is on this year’s edition of Ranking the Rockies at all is a minor miracle. Three years ago in Asheville he put up a 7.94 ERA (you read that right) with a 1.925 WHIP (yes, that too) in 93 innings pitched. That offseason the Rockies elected to send him back to the South Atlantic League, this time as a reliever, and he flourished. After two seasons (including one as the Modesto Nuts closer) and 133 strikeouts in 132 ⅔ innings, he earned an invitation to big league Spring Training. For all intents and purposes, that should have been the high-point of his season. But when you have electric stuff like Carasiti, sometimes you rise quickly.

Carasiti began the year as the Double-A Hartford Yard Goats’ closer and was lights-out. After giving up a solo home run in his first appearance of the year, he didn’t allow another run until April 29. He was named to the Eastern League All-Star game behind his 2.31 ERA, 25 saves, and 39 strikeouts in 34 ⅔ innings. A week later he was promoted to Triple-A Albuquerque and continued to shove. Two weeks after that, he was on his way to Denver as Gonzalez Germen was designated for assignment and made his major league debut on August 12.

Once he got there things did not go great. He finished the year with a 9.19 ERA and a 2.30 WHIP in 15 ⅔ innings pitched. His advanced metrics don’t help that much: a 4.49 FIP, 54 ERA+, and a 5.63 DRA. He did manage to strike out 9.8 batters per nine innings, but that was with a 6.3 BB/9 rate. It would seem that Matt Carasiti was completely overmatched in his major league debut. Were he called up out of necessity (injuries, etc.), then one might be tempted to brush him off as yet another failed reliever. But recall his performance from April to July: Carasiti forced his way into the majors. There are nuggets buried in the numbers that should give us reason to believe in the talent--the talent that got him here--going forward.

The first thing to note is that Matt Carasiti was a different pitcher in September than he was in August. Or, perhaps more accurately, he was a different pitcher in August than he was the rest of the season. In 9 ⅔ August innings (seven of which came in low leverage situations), Carasiti gave up more runs (15) than he had in 46 minor league innings (13), while allowing more than twice the OPS (1.207 in August against .584 from April to July). He turned it around in September, allowing just two runs in six innings across nine appearances to the tune of a .734 OPS against. He still allowed too much contact, but it was more “middling reliever” than “Charlie Brown gets his socks knocked off.”

However, if you break down his time in the majors by batter handedness, things start to get very interesting.

Courtesy: Fangraphs

Obviously “Small Sample Size” warnings apply here (in spades) but the pattern is pretty difficult to ignore. In his first month everyone was hitting him, but he was at least able to get right-handers to swing and miss. In contrast, against lefties he struggled to get the ball in the strike zone and when he did they were doing extreme violence to it (though he allowed just one home run in the majors, on August 17 to Pedro Severino of the Nationals). His numbers were better overall in September but they were excellent against righties (Daniel Norris of the Padres was the only one who even reached, and that was on a hit by pitch), even while lefties continued to dominate him. This platoon split was true of him all season: righties hit .167/.209/.258 while lefties hit .321/.411/.532 against him.

Matt Carasiti’s first taste of the big leagues surely did not go as he would have hoped. But not only did he improve as time went on, he proved that, while he shouldn’t be allowed within 61 feet of a left handed hitter, he could be just the ROOGY* the Rockies need to help rebuild their pen.

2017 Outlook

Carasiti is now on the 40-man roster, so he will enter Spring Training with a chance to make the big league bullpen. That, of course, is dependent on the other pieces GM Jeff Bridich and co. acquire in the offseason to shore up the bullpen. If he isn’t able to make the Opening Day roster, Carasiti should be one of the first players up from Triple-A to help the big league club, perhaps as a right-handed specialist.

*Right-handed One Out GuY