Brandon McCarthy is 7-11 with a 4.31 earned run average this season.
But since being traded to the New York Yankees last month, the right-hander has collected four wins in six starts, taking just one loss while compiling a 2.21 earned run average — less than half of what he managed with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 18 prior starts.
The turnaround isn’t so shocking in the general context of baseball; oftentimes, players benefit from a “change of scenery.” But it’s almost stunning to see on paper — a 5.01 ERA with one team and a 2.21 with the other.
Naturally, fans, media and front office executives have been left searching for an answer, even given the small sample size of McCarthy’s work in the Bronx.
Late last month, McCarthy himself went on record to shed some light on his improvement. He pointed to the use of the cut fastball, as the New York Daily News reported.
“It’s hard to keep major league hitters off of just one pitch,” he said. “The cutter neutralizes the inner half of the plate against lefthanders, and you can do things away to righthanders with it. It kind of helps set up everything else and gives you some room to work.”
He went on to talk about the D-backs and their approach to pitch-calling for him.
“They didn’t want me throwing it any more,” he said of his former team. “They wanted more sinkers away, but I feel like I need that pitch to be successful.”
His new team, he said, had a different philosophy on the pitch. And he sounds as if he’s jelling better with his new catcher, Brian McCann, in particular.
“The Yankees came to me right away and said, ‘We need to bring the cutter back into play.’ They obviously looked back and saw, ‘when he’s good he was throwing cutters. When he’s not, he wasn’t.’
“I was glad to hear it because I was going to tell them that anyway. It’s been frustrating because I felt like I’ve been throwing better this season than any other year.”
. . .
“I’ve got a lot of trust in McCann,” was the way McCarthy put it. “He’s known for his game-calling, his catching. When he says, ‘Let’s use the four-seamer, we can set up hitters a different way,’ there’s no reason to have any self-doubt. All I had to do was execute.”
Seen by some as a possible slight against the D-backs and catcher Miguel Montero, McCarthy’s comments have generated a lot of discussion both locally and nationally.
In response, D-backs general manager Kevin Towers offered his own insight on the improvement of the pitcher he signed to a two-year, $15.5 million contract. He was a guest of Doug and Wolf on Arizona Sports 98.7 FM on Wednesday and he seemed defensive.
He began by affirming his catcher’s abilities.
“I think he’s an above-average game caller and, you know, in 2011 he did an incredible job with our staff there as well,” Towers said.
Montero and McCarthy often seemed to be on different pages during the pitcher’s time in Arizona, including in their first game together.
“A lot of it comes down to pitchers executing, as well. You know, if pitchers don’t execute pitches, regardless of what you’re calling — you know, if they miss their spots, it’s going to be poor results.”
As the GM continued, he didn’t hold back his seeming annoyance with his former pitcher’s comments.
“McCarthy, you know — it’s always good to place blame on others once you leave the organization,” he said.
“But I don’t think his lack of success here was because we took the cutter away and Miguel can’t call a game. That’s not correct.”