Brandon McCarthy made four starts for the 2015 Dodgers. They were… well, confusing. In 23 innings, he had a 29/4 K/BB, which is damn near elite. He threw harder than he’d ever thrown before, averaging 94.3 MPH after years of being in the 92 MPH range. He also gave up a ludicrous amount of homers, nine of them, and that led to a brutal 5.87 ERA. Though the Dodgers won all four of his starts, 5.87 is bad. Real bad. Then he blew out his elbow, and he never got the chance to change that, so that’s a number he’s stuck with.
So McCarthy’s Dodger career didn’t get off to a good start, and there’s no denying that. When he returns later this summer, we don’t know what sort of pitcher he’ll be. We don’t know if he’ll be able to provide enough value over the remaining 2.5 years or so of his deal to make the initial commitment of four years and $48 million worth it. But I can already tell that there’s a desire among fans to look at what he did on the mound in 2015 and assign meaning to it, to say that the deal was a bad idea because they got a 5.87 ERA pitcher out of it.
Let’s stop with that right now. I should hardly have to tell you that 23 innings is not enough of a sample size to judge any starter, but it goes beyond that. We knew at the time that he was pitching through pain in his last start, and based on his Q&A at the Player’s Tribune last week, it was more than that:
Before the fateful night in San Diego, you were having an odd season. Granted I’m talking about a small sample size of four starts, but your strikeout rate was way up and your velo was up a tick. However, every fly ball seemed to leave the park. What were your thoughts on your performance before the injury? – Tom
I wish I had a funny or better answer to this question other than “I don’t know,” but I don’t. I forgot to pack my sinker when I came to spring training and I think I was fighting against that. I was unable to get ground balls so I had to throw more four-seamers, leading to more strikeouts and more fly balls. Sample size for the season was so small and I was hurt for two of the games, so I choose to not look at last season as much of anything.
Which is absolutely the right way to look at it. For all intents and purposes, McCarthy is a brand new addition to the Dodgers, because we have really never seen the healthy McCarthy, other than perhaps the first game or two. Now, if you want to turn that around and say that over 2015-16 the Dodgers are paying him many, many millions for something like a dozen starts, yeah, that’s not a great return on investment. For sure. I’m just not sure that what we saw in a small, injured sample size tells us anything useful. Remember when Clayton Kershaw had an ERA north of 4.30 into May? Yeah. That. Small samples, the worst samples.