For a third place team, ravaged with injuries, the New York Yankees made a trade last week to acquire veteran starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy from the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The Yankees sent young left-hander Vidal Nuno to the desert in return for McCarthy. But many New York fans and media members weren't convinced McCarthy and his ERA over 5.00 would be the piece that would bolster the starting rotation and put New York in the playoffs. But even if another, bigger, deal might be on the horizon, Brian Cashman and the Yankees' front office certainly felt a little more optimistic about McCarthy despite his rather ineffective ERA.
Many baseball fans who follow advanced analytics are familiar with McCarthy's unusual year because of the large discrepancy between his traditional numbers and his peripherals - statistics that typically indicate how well a pitcher will throw going forward. This year in Arizona, McCarthy's strikeout rate was up over 50 percent from last year and his walk rate stayed down, where he usually finds himself. Both of these facts indicate that McCarthy would see improved numbers because strikeouts limit the number of balls put into play, which statisticians have found pitchers have little control over.
But even more so than his strikeout and walk numbers, McCarthy has been severely unlucky with home runs allowed. His ratio of home runs to fly balls - a stat that measures how many of a pitcher's fly balls allowed end up leaving the yard - has ballooned in 2014. McCarthy's rate has nearly doubled, all the way to 20 percent, this season. Statisticians have also found that this number usually remains somewhat normal. And a stretch where many fly balls go over the fence is an indication of a bad run of luck more than anything. For McCarthy, it's been an entire first half.
Before the trade, McCarthy's xFIP (fielding independent pitching that also normalizes home run rate) was the third-best in the National League.
xFIP has been one of the most effective numbers at predicting future performance, while ERA simply tells a story of the past. And that is the number that the Yankees are banking on shining through for the rest of McCarthy's unusual 2014 campaign.
Essentially, New York is hoping to get McCarthy for his lucky half of the season - or at least a half that represents what his peripherals are suggesting he's capable of achieving. He may not be a Cy Young candidate, but if McCarthy continues to pitch how he's been pitching in Arizona and the things he doesn't have so much control over come back to normal levels, the trade could be a steal moving forward and into October for New York.
But there's only one way to find out.