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Slider Key to Carpenter’s Success in 2015

The Yankees traded former top prospect Manny Banuelos to the Braves on New Years’ Day for a pair of relievers—right-hander David Carpenter and southpaw Chasen Shreve. The well-traveled Carpenter should take over for the recently traded Shawn Kelley as a hard-throwing righty weapon out of the bullpen.

At first glance, Carpenter appears to be a better version of the man whose role he figures to fill. He’s around the same age as Kelley and has almost the exact same repertoire, but he’s a year younger, a million dollars cheaper, and possesses a better ERA and faster fastball. Let’s take a closer look at the newest member of the Yankees relief corps.

Carpenter broke out with Atlanta in 2013. After posting a 5.70 ERA in 60 career innings with the Astros and Blue Jays in 2011 and 2012, Carpenter had an excellent year for the Braves, logging a 1.78 ERA with 74 strikeouts in those 65.2 innings. He followed that up with a good-but-not-great 2014 in which he had a 3.54 ERA with 67 strikeouts in 61 innings. Additionally, his WHIP increased from 0.99 to 1.26.

A closer look, however, shows that Carpenter’s performance didn’t decline as sharply as one might think based solely on earned run average. His FIP increased only marginally in 2014, from 2.83 to 2.94. His K/BB and BB/9 rates got better and his K/9 and HR/9 rates stayed virtually the same.

So, what fueled the uptick in Carpenter’s allowed runs? The answer seems to lie with the amount of hits Carpenter gave up. He allowed 9.0 H/9 in 2014 versus 6.2 H/9 during the previous year. The jump in his opponents’ BABIP may help explain some of the difference—.260 in 2013 against .333 in 2014.

BABIP is usually somewhere in between those two numbers, so all of this seems to say that Carpenter’s true talent level should be somewhere in between his 2013 and 2014 levels. However, there’s a more foreboding factor lurking behind Carpenter’s 2014 season. While his lefty opponents’ batting average stayed about the same between the years—.224 in 2013 against .220 in 2014—his righty opponents’ batting average went up by over 100 points to .287. Furthermore, while lefties’ BABIP against him was a mundane .284 last year, righties’ BABIP was a sky-high .376.

Carpenter’s repertoire consists of a fastball, which he throws roughly ¾ of the time, and a slider, which he throws about ¼ of the time. He sneaks an occasional changeup in there as well against lefties. His fastball clocks in at 95-96 MPH, and actually appeared to gain about half a mile per hour in 2014. His slider, which sits in the mid-80s and also gained a bit of velocity in 2014, has decent horizontal movement—about 22nd-best among righty relievers in 2014, according to PITCHf/x leaderboards. Carpenter cut the already tiny amount of changeups he throws in half in 2014, but it’s still fairly effective when he does sneak one in.

The gap between Carpenter’s performance against lefties and righties is further explained by his line drives per ball in play rate. His LD/BIP stayed stable against righties from 2013 to 2014 on his fastball, but it shot up by 17% on his slider. Carpenter’s slight dip in performance in 2014 can probably be boiled down to a combination of bad luck and a decline in the effectiveness of his slider against right-handed batters. Basically, when batters did hit the ball, they hit it harder on average.

The Yankees would love to see a Carpenter as effective as his 2013 self, but would definitely settle for his 2014 performance. What they’ll get, barring an injury or some other unforeseen setback, is somewhere in the middle, probably closer to 2014 when accounting for the effect of switching from the National League to the American League. The key for Carpenter will be figuring out how to induce weaker contact on the slider in 2015. Working with pitching coach Larry Rothschild should help Carpenter with that.