SEVEN PITCHES. That’s how long it took for the verdict to come in. On April 5, in the first inning of his first start in an A’s uniform, Brandon McCarthy went groundout, groundout, groundout. It was a one-inning sabermetric masterpiece. For the game, he lasted eight innings — the second-longest start of his career — and threw just 89 pitches.
McCarthy’s filthy stuff was no laughing matter. “He’s not trying to strike you out,” says Hunter, who had long dominated the lanky pitcher — until last season. “He’s trying to get a ground ball. He’s keeping guys off balance, and he’s hitting his spots. He’s learned how to pitch.” (“The first time I got him out last year,” says McCarthy, “I was like, ‘Oh my god, I really did something!’ That just wasn’t possible before.”) A’s manager Bob Melvin says McCarthy’s new pitching approach reminds him of Greg Maddux, the 300-game winner and surefire Hall of Famer. Says Melvin: “He takes great pride in being able to throw the ball where he wants.” And when he wants.
He learned about FIP, or fielding independent pitching, a statistical aggregate that combines what a pitcher can control (homers, walks, strikeouts), ignores what he can’t (luck, defense) and is a truer barometer than ERA. He also learned about BABIP, or batting average on balls in play, a stat that indicates whether a pitcher has been especially lucky (under .300) or unlucky (over .300). He learned about WAR, or wins above replacement, the all-inclusive, apples-to-apples metric that tells how valuable a player is to his team. He learned about ground ball rates, strikeout-to-walk ratios and more.