Earlier this month the Yankees took a chance on Brandon McCarthy, trading Vidal Nuno to the Diamondbacks for the sinker-balling right hander. While McCarthy’s numbers in Arizona were ugly (5.01 ERA), his FIP was much better (3.82). Through 4 starts the investment the Yankees made has paid off. McCarthy has pitched to a 3-0 record with a 2.55 ERA. Since the trade many of McCarthy’s peripherals have not changed much however, there have been a few differences.
Two keys factors for pitcher success — K% and BB% — have not changed much with K% decreasing slightly and BB% increasing sightly, although neither can be looked at as the reason McCarthy has been so much better since the deal. Another important stat to look at is his BABIP, which, has improved a few percentage points since the beginning of the season but is still above his career average of .297. However, a major difference that can be seen in McCarthy’s numbers since the trade is his GB%. In recent seasons as McCarthy has began featuring his sinker more his groundball percentage has increased significantly. the 55.3% he showed with the Diamondbacks was more than 7 percentage points higher than the career high he set in 2013. Seeing this major change in GB% opens the question of what exactly McCarthy has been doing differently with the Yankees.
During a few of McCarthy’s starts with the Yankees, New York broadcaster Michael Kay has mentioned that McCarthy did not throw his cutter as frequently with the Diamondbacks compared to how often he has used it since the trade. Looking at his PitchF/x pitch selection data does show an increase in the use of his cutter but it also shows several other interesting trends.
As Kay has noted McCarthy has used his cutter more frequently but the increase is minimal compared to several other big changes McCarthy has made. With the Dbacks McCarthy used his curveball more that a quarter of his pitches making it his second most frequently used pitch. However, once he was traded McCarthy had been using the cutter as his second most common pitch. However, the significant drop in his curveball usage did not get added to his cutter usage it instead was added to a pitch he did not use in Arizona, a four seam fastball.
Since his trade to New York from Arizona Brandon McCarthy has been a completely different pitcher. While his ability has not changed and the park has not been much of an improvement (103 for NY 104 for ARI) the biggest difference in McCarthy as a pitcher has been in his pitch selection, once again featuring a four seam fastball while reducing the usage of his curveball. To this point the move to the Yankees may have been exactly what McCarthy’s career needed simply because it allowed him to change the way he attacks hitters.