Trade Analysis: Vidal Nuno for Brandon McCarthy

With CC Sabathia‘s season likely over, Michael Pineda‘s uncertain return date, and Ivan Nova gone until 2015, the rotation has been in need of depth over the past couple of months. This morning, Brian Cashman and Arizona’s Kevin Towers swapped two struggling starting pitchers: Vidal Nuno and Brandon McCarthy. Financially, the Yankees are paying $1M of McCarthy’s assignment bonus and $2.05M of the $4.1M remaining in the last year of his deal (Buster Olney). Just by the names involved, this trade looks like a no-brainer for the Yankees.

Nuno, 26, was signed out of the Independent Frontier League in 2011. He had a cup of coffee with the Yankees last season, and has made 14 starts with the Yanks this year. In his 98 career innings, it’s probably fair to call him a replacement level starter (0.4 fWAR, 0.3 rWAR). Perhaps he gets a slight bump with the move to the National League, but that’s not of importance for the Yankees. What the Yankees receive in McCarthy is a solid starter with much more experience than Nuno. Turning 31 tomorrow, he’s had an unimpressive season in terms of ERA (5.01), but there are reasons to believe he can improve.

Home runs have been the biggest issue for McCarthy. Yankee Stadium certainly isn’t the best place to turn that trend around, but his home run statistics make regression appear likely. In a season where he’s posting a career bests in ground ball and fly ball rates, his home run to fly ball ratio is a career worst 20%. His career mark? 10%. That just doesn’t add up without some bad luck factoring in.

McCarthy has also been less fortunate with balls in play. His BABIP against is another career worst: .345. Now, ground balls do tend to be hits more often than fly balls, so that is probably a partial explanation. However, his line drive rate is on par with his lifetime numbers. I’m a little less confident in his BABIP falling because the Yankees’ infield defense is so poor, but I think this shows that the newest Yankee has pitched better than his ERA indicates.

FIP, xFIP, and SIERA all concur with the sentiment that McCarthy has underperformed his ERA. His decent strikeout rate and strong control has resulted in a 3.79 FIP, while his xFIP sits at 2.89 after regressing his HR/FB to league average. SIERA believes that McCarthy’s ERA should be 3.01. The rest-of-season projections are favorable, as well: ZiPS and Steamer peg McCarthy to pitch to a 4.16 and 3.83 ERA, respectively.

Performance aside, McCarthy does have a lengthy injury history. He’s spent time on the disabled list for shoulder/forearm issues every season since 2007. These haven’t been your short, 15-day DL stints, either. In 2014, McCarthy has been fine — but it’s a risk the Yankees are clearly willing to take. At the cost of Nuno, it’s undoubtedly worth a shot.

To be frank, I’m a bit surprised that the Diamondbacks couldn’t do any better than this for McCarthy. I get that he hasn’t pitched all that well and his health is spotty, but Vidal Nuno and a couple million bucks? That move is too easy for a team like the Yankees. For New York, McCarthy doesn’t even have to be all that good for the trade to be worthwhile. He’s immediately an upgrade as is, and a solid candidate to improve on his results based performance. It’s a good start for the front office of a team that still has plenty of holes to plug.

Statistics via Fangraphs. Injury history via Baseball Prospectus.

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