Brandon McCarthy pitches for the Oakland Athletics. After struggling for years with various injuries, the 27-year-old right-hander is enjoying the best season of his career. McCarthy also happens to have one of Major League Baseball's more interesting Twitter feeds. Earlier this week, McCarthy was kind enough to answer a few questions via e-mail ...
Rob Neyer: After you were drafted in the 17th round by the White Sox in 2002, you were a strikeout machine in the minors for three seasons, leading Baseball America to rank you as the 49th-best prospect in the minors prior to the 2005 season. Upon reaching the majors that year, your strikeouts went way down and your walks went up. Were the hitters that much tougher, or was something else going on?
It's a combination of a lot of things really, but the jump in talent is probably the jump-off point for the other issues. My stuff back then was OK, but definitely not dominant, so I got by on command. I could work my fastball off the edges of the plate (which is often a strike in the minors) and my curveball generated a lot of swings and misses. Both of those things changed when I got to the big leagues. I lost the 1-2 inch margin off the plate and big-league hitters just don't get fooled by CBs very often. So instead of being 1-2 on a hitter and then throwing a CB in the dirt for a strikeout, I found myself in a lot of 2-1 and 3-1 counts and having to pitch carefully. Also, big-league hitters are really good at hitting foul balls, so when I did throw a pitch I expected to get a K with, it got fouled off much more often (it's the biggest difference between the minors and majors IMO). Those factors early on led to less Ks and more BBs. In time, that led to a lack of confidence and a loss of my pitching identity.
Neyer: This season, your control has been brilliant. You entered 2010 having walked 3.4 batters per nine innings in the majors, but this year you've walked only 1.4 per nine innings. Among the 141 pitchers with at least a dozen starts this season, that 1.4 figure is fourth best. Is there any particular reason for this massive improvement in your walk rate?
McCarthy: Confidence. Once I overhauled everything, I was sort of rejuvenated mentally. Where I used to throw a straight 4-seam FB and fear it getting crushed, I can now throw a FB that moves and trust that more often than not the contact won't be damaging. Honestly, that realization in itself is probably the biggest factor. From there I've been able to build everything back on top of that, but just feeling like I have the stuff to compete at a higher level has removed the fear of contact. Everything you do in this game stems from your mental fortitude or lack of it, and throwing strikes might be the place in which that's most noticeable.
These Questions 3: Shawn Green
Neyer: Like a lot of pitchers (but perhaps more than most), you've suffered a number of injuries, including a stress fracture that cost you a big chunk of 2007, an elbow injury that cost you most of 2008, and of course the shoulder injuries that cost you most of 2010. From 2005 through 2010 -- six full seasons -- you averaged 76 innings per season, largely due to the injuries. What kept you going, through all the surgeries and rehabs and watching instead of pitching?
McCarthy: First off, I've been extremely fortunate to not have had any surgeries. I haven't really even gotten close to needing one, either. My shoulder injuries, have all been the same exact one. It's a scapular stress fracture/reaction, and it's unbelievably rare. There are five documented cases in baseball, and I've got four of them. It better be named after me, so at least I have something to show for all of this.
The injury in itself isn't major and when it heals, it truly heals so that's what's kept me going. When I have it, the pain can be excruciating, but after seven days of rest, it feels like I have a new arm. So while it's mentally defeating to miss so much time, knowing that it's just one injury that doesn't have residual effects, keeps me from ever really getting too down. I have no idea if it can be prevented but have come to peace with the idea that this just might be something I have every year, which turns my focus to how to best deal with it. In the past I've rested much longer and then went through the full rehab process, which eats up a lot of time. This year, I noticed the symptoms earlier so I had to take only two weeks off before getting back at it.
Going forward, my hope is that recognizing it early can save me from a lot of DL time. I might not be able to get 200+ innings a year in because of it, but if I can work around the injury for 140-160+ innings a year, then there's a career to be made out of that.