If Carlos Carrasco played for any team other than the Cleveland Indians, he would be the ace of that team’s pitching staff. His arm is among the best in all of baseball. At this point in his career, Carrasco has turned himself into a perennial Cy Young Award candidate. If not for the fact that he shares the spotlight with teammate and two-time Cy Young Award winner, Corey Kluber, Carrasco may be among the most popular pitchers in Cleveland Indians history.

To his credit, Carrasco has never shied away from or been critical of this role as 1a in the Indians starting rotation. If anything, Carrasco serves as the perfect balance to Kluber. Where as Kluber is stoic, machine-like, and almost boring in his approach and off the field persona, Carrasco is anything but. Carrasco is the fun-loving jokester with the cute nickname, Cookie, and a smile that could light up the darkest of spaces. Who can forget last season when he stole STO sideline reporter Andre Knott’s microphone with help from Abe Almonte and Francisco Lindor and proceeded to give play-by-play throughout the game? Or the mini-balls crafted along with Trevor Bauer?

Is the Best Still Yet to Come for Carlos Carrasco?

Even with all the joking around and fun to be had, Carrasco is anything but that on game days. When it’s his turn to take the mound, Carrasco morphs into the type of fearless competitor you would expect of someone with his resume.

Over the past 3 seasons, Carrasco has compiled a 43-26 record with a 3.41 ERA and 592 strikeouts in 530 innings of work. Per Baseball-Reference, that translates to 10 strikeouts per nine innings of work, a 3.18 FIP, and 5.3 wins above replacement per 162 games. It goes without saying, Carrasco is a stud. Even scarier… he keeps getting better.

Heading into his age 31 season, a lot is expected from Carrasco. Scouring the various projection databases, Cookie is expected to throw between 160-180 innings and once again approach 200 strikeouts. Based on recent history and barring any sort of serious injury, there is no reason to think anything differently.

Carrasco dominates thanks to a killer combination of both power and finesse. Like Kluber, Carrasco utilizes a mid-90’s fastball to set up a power slider, but also possesses a devastating change-up that nearly disappears to most hitters. And while you would expect that a pitcher with mid-90s heat would excel by blowing pitches past opposing hitters, only 11% of Carrasco’s strikeouts come via the fastball. His slider and change-up are far more responsible for making hitters look bewildered at the plate.

It’s this combination of pitches that helped Carrasco finish fourth in last year’s AL Cy Young Award voting. It’s the same combination that will undoubtedly have him in the conversation once again. However, it will be hard for him to win it, especially if Kluber does Kluber-like things for the third time in five years, but expect him to get votes.

As previously mentioned, none of this will matter if Carrasco can’t stay healthy. This is true of any pitcher, but the Indians have seen first hand just how devastating an injury to Carrasco can be. It’s hard to imagine the Indians not winning the 2016 World Series with a healthy Carrasco to compliment a dominant Kluber. The point was only further driven home during Carrasco’s postseason debut in 2017, when he went five scoreless innings striking out seven Yankees. Hindsight is 20/20, but it makes you wonder how different 2017 may have ended is Carrasco had thrown twice.

What all of these things help to show is that Carlos Carrasco is the linchpin holding the Indians starting rotation together. His dominance grants Kluber the opportunity to relax a bit. If he needs rest, there is no drop-off. For the rest of the staff, Carrasco’s presence allows them all to fill roles more complimentary to their skill sets. Josh Tomlin is a reliable fifth starter, not the third starter on a playoff team like he was in 2016. Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger have top of the rotation potential, but they aren’t quite there yet, especially Clevinger.

With a healthy Carlos Carrasco in his prime, together with Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and a smattering of Josh Tomlin and Mike Clevinger, 2018 should once again prove to be a successful season for the Indians. It should also be a lot of fun thanks to Carlos Carrasco.