Brandon McCarthy has been (thankfully) garnering more attention than that empty chair Clint Eastwood berated a few weeks ago. Like the chair, McCarthy has been equally unwitting of his media adoration. You see, McCarthy doesn’t go around “hot-dogging it,” to borrow Eastwood’s phrase. His burgeoning popularity is not dependent upon beards, long gorgeous long locks of hair, or jealously inducing handsomeness. It is rather the result of something entirely too foreign to both Eastwood and his empty chair. I’m of course referring to Critical Thought (yes, I meant to capitalize it).
Okay, Critical Thinking AND Twitter, but mostly the former.
About That Twitter
McCarthy is quite the Twitter personality, and his wife, Amanda, is the Ricky to Brandon’s Lucy. Which is to say, the duo is playful and entertaining. When Amanda becomes fed up with Brandon’s frivolous spending, forcing Brandon to take up a job at a candy factory, hilarity ensues. Or, when Brandon urinates in a toilet’s proximal area, we get this:
Classic couple banter, am I right? Of course, sometimes the duo handles more serious topics, such as the moral boundaries of marriage and fidelity.
All jokes (and tweets) aside, McCarthy’s Twitter presence typifies his — for lack of a better term — avant-gardism. That is, McCarthy’s unconventional mode of thinking has propelled him into your hearts and into the upper-echelons of professional baseball.
The New McCarthyism
Sabermetrics exists in professional baseball, but it rarely crosses the white line separating athlete from administrator, signified from signifier.
Brandon McCarthy is the exception.
As told by ESPN’s Eddie Matz, McCarthy’s journey represents a new twist to the Moneyball lore. In 2009, after nearly five years of mediocrity, McCarthy decided to be different. “I didn’t want to suck at baseball anymore,” McCarthy told Matz.
And so, he changed. McCarthy understood his pitching was ineffective, and he understood that effectiveness and freakish ability are not exclusive. “I could never be Justin Verlander because I can’t throw 101,” he said. “But there’s nothing freakish about Halladay, nothing that wasn’t within the realm of possibility for me.”
Of course, knowing he needn’t be a physical specimen to pitch at a major league level and actually finding a way to pitch a that level are two different things. But if any one could find a way, it was McCarthy.
“He’s always had the ability to look at something critically,” McCarthy’s father noted. “And if it came up short, he would move on.”
Move on, he did–to the internet, actually. McCarthy began frequenting websites that could give him insights into successful pitching, sites such as FireJoeMorgan.com and Fangraphs.com. As a result, McCarthy came to understand WAR, BABIP, FIP, and GB/FB, to name a few.
“The more I read, the more it just made sense,” said McCarthy. “I wanted ground balls and worse contact. I wanted to attack the zone and get deep into games.”
McCarthy set out to accomplish this in the same way Roy Halladay had: He developed a two seam fastball. It worked so well that during the final month of the 2009 season, McCarthy doubled his GB/FB ratio to 1.44. Though McCarthy’s turn around wasn’t enough to guarantee him a spot on the Rangers’ 2010 roster, it would be enough to interest the A’s.
In 2011, McCarthy would produce a GB/FB of 1.14 with a 4.2 WAR, practically doubling his career numbers in both. Though 2012 wouldn’t hold exactly the same success, he is still inducing more grounders than fly balls, while flirting with a WAR just below two. Both well above career averages and expectations.
In his own words, McCarthy doesn’t “suck” anymore. And neither do the A’s, thanks in part to McCarthy.
The Team, The Team, The Team
It would be unfair to single out McCarthy for the season(s) he’s been having (had). His peers have been equally as impressive. The A’s pitching staff has vaulted the team into the playoff hunt–though it hasn’t vaulted the team to McCarthy’s popularity.
What’s interesting about the pitching staff’s success as a whole is that it is antithetical to what made McCarthy so effective.
These numbers straddle mediocrity. Their GB/FB is second lowest in the league (the higher, the better), and their GB% is the lowest, while their FB% is only .3% from being the highest. In short, that the A’s have the third best ERA seems unusual. Perhaps even more unusual than their 3.80 FIP and 4.19 xFIP.
And yet, it’s working. The A’s are three games back from the Rangers. And they’re doing it on the arms of McCarthy, Jarrod Parker, and Tommy Milone — let’s not forget about Jerry Blevins. It defies logic and Critical Thought, but most great things do. It makes the experience sweeter and more enjoyable.
Think 10,000 WASPs hooting and hollering at an empty chair. Think of the 2010 San Francisco Giants. Now, think of 2012 Oakland A’s, a team whose success epitomizes it’s players: Unconventional but entertaining.
Friday is the Athletics blog day, and I will be in attendance. I, along with other bloggers, will have a chance to sit down with Bob Melvin, Brett Anderson, and Grant Balfour. So, if you have any questions you’d like me ask, please leave them in the comments section.