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Free Agent Profile: Brandon McCarthy

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A high risk, high reward option, Brandon McCarthy could be a huge bargain this offseason.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, I took a brief look at the mid-tier free agent starting pitching market, arguing that the Mariners could use some depth and the mid-tiers are rife with great values at a reasonable price. Every marginal upgrade to the roster pushes the team closer to a postseason appearance and, right now, it shouldn't matter where those upgrades are found. I've already written about Chris Capuano as a target for potential pitching depth. Let's take a look at another.

One of the names that came up most often in the comments last week was Brandon McCarthy. Known for his charismatic Twitter personality, McCarthy could be the biggest prize of the second-tier of free agent starting pitchers. The Mariners have yet to be rumored to be connected with McCarthy but the pitching market seems to be at a standstill until one of Lester, Scherzer, or Shields is signed. The Mariners can be patient when it comes to adding pitching depth but it shouldn't stop us from learning all we can about these mid-tier pitching targets.

The Profile

Brandon McCarthy is 31 and will turn 32 in July. He was drafted by the White Sox in 2002 and has spent time with the Rangers, the Athletics, the Diamondbacks, and the Yankees during his nine-year career. Last year, he struggled to match his ERA estimators in Arizona and was subsequently traded to the Yankees where his results began to match his peripherals. Much of his newfound success can be attributed to a 2.1 mph increase in his average fastball velocity. He was able to increase his strikeout rate while continuing to be incredibly stingy with his walks. It all added up to a FIP that ranked 35th among all qualified starters in the majors.

Brandon McCarthy (2014; 32 starts)

IP

K%

BB%

HR/FB%

GB%

ERA

FIP

200

20.9%

4.0%

16.3%

52.6%

4.05

3.55

Pitches

Four-seam

Cutter

Splitter

Sinker

Curveball

93.4 mph;

6.0%

91.5 mph;

18.2%

85.0 mph;

0.3%

92.7 mph;

51.2%

81.3 mph;

23.7%

The biggest concern with McCarthy is his long injury history, particularly his chronic shoulder problems. In fact, 2014 was the first year in his career where he avoided any time on the disabled list which meant he was able to reach 200 innings for the first time as well. McCarthy's improved velocity and health can be attributed to a different weight program in the offseason. He's said that the goal of the program was to avoid the regular wear and tear he's seen in his career and to focus on maintaining his endurance and strength over the long season. A completely healthy year from McCarthy isn't necessarily a guarantee of future health but it's certainly a good sign that the goals of his weight program were accomplished in year one.

The Projection

Brandon McCarthy (2015 Steamer Projection)

IP

K%

BB%

ERA

FIP

WAR

153

18.8%

4.6%

3.72

3.45

2.3

Steamer doesn't fully believe in McCarthy's improved strikeout and walk rates he established in 2014, although the rates it does project look much better than his previous career norms. Steamer is also projecting less than a full year of production from McCarthy which is probably a safe bet considering his long injury history. If you extrapolate his projected performance over 200 innings, his WAR total would improve to just over 3.0. Given the improvements he's made over the last calendar year and taking into account his history, I'd be comfortable penciling in 2.0-3.0 WAR for McCarthy.

The Cost

The FanGraphs crowd and MLB Trade Rumors both estimate that McCarthy will sign a three-year contract worth around $36 million total. A fourth year could be a possibility but I'd guess that teams will be pretty hesitant to sign McCarthy to a long-term deal given his history. A shorter contract might push the average annual value over $15 million but, even at that rate, he would still come at a decent value given his projections. If he's signed near the estimated AAV that FanGraphs and MLBTR are guessing, McCarthy could be the biggest bargain of the free agent market.

The Fit

Brandon McCarthy is just one of a number of options for the Mariners. He's a popular free agent target because of his charismatic personality and his impressive peripherals, leading to a stat line that might be undervalued by traditional metrics. He comes with his fair share of risk but any pitcher over 30 is a health risk. Still, his upside should outweigh the potential for injury and his value should be seen as a bargain.

The free agent market has been flush with cash to start this offseason. Teams are throwing around huge chunks of money to ensure they get their man. But offense has been the primary target, not pitching. The pitching market has been relatively quiet and will be stuck at a standstill until someone sets the market price for pitchers by signing one of the premier starters. McCarthy could be available well into December and even into January. This gives the Mariners time to address their offensive woes before filling out their rotation with a new piece or two.

There's no question the Mariners' rotation would benefit from slotting McCarthy into the third spot in 2015. His high injury risk should be mitigated somewhat by his improved performance, even over limited innings. If his shoulder problems are truly behind him, his value could come close to matching Hisashi Iwakuma. Given the potential bargain McCarthy could be signed for, the Mariners would do well to at least look into signing him.