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GIF Breakdown: Analyzing Brandon McCarthy’s Return From TJS in 12 HD GIFs

After making just four starts in 2015 for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Brandon McCarthy had to face a pitcher’s biggest nightmare – Tommy John surgery. He would have fourteen long...

After making just four starts in 2015 for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Brandon McCarthy had to face a pitcher’s biggest nightmare – Tommy John surgery. He would have fourteen long months of recovery and rehabilitation of the surgically repaired ligament in his right elbow before he would throw his next big league pitch. That moment finally came for McCarthy this past Sunday, when the soon-to-be 33-year-old took the hill for the Dodgers against the Colorado Rockies. McCarthy was brilliant in his return, throwing five scoreless innings while allowing just three baserunners and striking out eight en route to the win. The Dodgers could desperately use Brandon’s services as their rotation took a major hit when they placed their ace, Clayton Kershaw, on the 15-day disabled list with a herniated disc in his back. It was great to see McCarthy rebound from his absence in stellar fashion. Let’s break down his Sunday start against the Rockies with 12 HD GIFs.

You guys know the drill by now. First thing’s first. Let’s take a gander at McCarthy’s strikezone plot from the outing: 

For a guy who’s coming back from Tommy John, McCarthy’s accuracy was on point. Apart from a few Fastballs that sailed outside glove-side, he hung around the strikezone with all his pitches. Something he did very well was elevate the Fastball. You can see the lack of Fastballs around the knees, which might come off to some as a negative, but a majority of his Fastballs thrown belt-high or above were called for by his catcher Yasmani Grandal. McCarthy was simply hitting his spots and hitters were struggling catching up to the high heat. You can also see how well he was spotting his Sinker on Sunday, with nearly all of them being around the arm-side corner at the knees. Brandon’s Curveball was especially great. He looked more comfortable throwing the bender than any other pitch during the outing. He had no issued commanding the Curveball for strikes and it brought some serious snapping depth along with it.

Now let’s see this arsenal in motion with the help of some GIFs.

Fastball

McCarthy threw 34 of his 72 total pitches as Fastballs (47.2% usage) and averaged 93.8mph while maxing at 95.5mph. This is great news for someone coming back from major surgery. The 93.6mph average is higher than McCarthy’s career best season average Fastball velocity of 93.5mph in 2015. It could have been due to nerves and adrenaline, but the fact that the velo hasn’t been negatively affected out of the gate is a great sign.

While facing his first major league hitter since he departed in April 2015, McCarthy showcases his well-located elevated Fastball with this 93mph heater that blows right past Charlie Blackmon for his first strikeout of 2016. Hits Grandal’s glove right where he wanted it:

Brandon kept it rolling with the high heat early on, as he mowed down the always dangerous lefty Carlos Gonzalez with a 93mph Fastball up and out of the zone for the swinging strikeout:

McCarthy, once again, nailing the location his catcher is setting up for him with the high heat, getting Rockies shortstop Cristhian Adames to strikeout swinging on this 93mph Fastball:

Brandon tossed 22 of his 34 Fastballs for strikes and induced 6 whiffs on 15 swings at the offering. He brought some great velocity with the pitch when compared with his career averages. McCarthy also held the increased velocity the whole outing as he was still touching 94mph in his final inning of work. The constantly elevated Fastball worked well on Sunday and it’ll be interesting to keep an eye on whether he continues this approach with the heater moving forward.

Sinker

McCarthy threw his Sinker the least of his four pitch types, tossing just 6 Sinkers (8.3% usage) and landing 5 of them for strikes. He averaged 92.0mph while maxing out at 93.8mph and got no whiffs on 3 swings with the pitch. Despite the low usage, the pitch has a fair amount of movement. It actually has the most horizontal movement of all of McCarthy’s offering with an average of 8.23 inches of tailing break.

He actually threw the Sinker as his opening pitch in the outing, tossing this beautiful tumbling 90mph Sinker that lands right on the outside black at the knees for strike one to Charlie Blackmon:

Here’s another example of how on point McCarthy was with his location on the Sinker. He drills his spot on the arm-side corner with a 91mph Sinker that Cristhian Adames can only watch go by for a strike:

When you look at McCarthy’s career numbers, it comes as no surprise why he’s very comfortable throwing the Sinker. He first started tinkering with the pitch in 2012, when he threw it 32.1% of the time. He then increased it to 43.1% in 2013 and upped it once more in 2014 when he threw the Sinker a whopping 51.5% of the time. Safe to say McCarthy has a good feel for his release point with the pitch and that showed in his Sunday outing. It’s odd to me that he only threw 6 of them with how good they all looked and how familiar he seemed with it. I would expect the usage to increase going forward.

Cutter

McCarthy threw just 8 Cutters (11.1% usage) in his Sunday outing with 5 of them ending up as strikes. He averaged 90.9mph while maxing out at 93.5mph with the pitch and induced 1 whiff on 2 swings at the offering. McCarthy’s Cutter doesn’t show a ton of cutting action that you normally see with the pitch from most pitchers who throw it. It mostly acts as a complimentary pitch to his 4-seam Fastball and Sinker that run with decent arm-side action. Instead of running like those pitches, it kind of just stays where it is with some slight drop. I know this doesn’t sound impressive with how I’m describing it, but when hitters are expecting a 90+mph baseball to move a few inches arm-side, start their swing with that in mind, then see the pitch stay put with slightly decreased velocity, it becomes an effective Cutter.

Let me show you what I mean. Here’s a 91mph Cutter McCarthy threw at the knees to Brandon Barnes for a called strike to start off the at-bat. As you can see, it doesn’t really move to the glove-side much, but rather dips slightly while staying mostly still horizontally:

Here’s a good example of the Cutter working in McCarthy’s favor. Brandon Barnes sees an elevated pitch in the zone and probably assumes it’s the Fastball that Brandon’s been throwing all afternoon. You can see how the Cutter gets in on the swing and Barnes, instead of squaring up a running Fastball, gets jammed and underneath the 90mph Cutter, popping it out to centerfield for the easy out:

McCarthy gets the same type of reactive swing on Nick Hundley with this 90mph Cutter on the outer half. Hundley swings like he’s ready to yank an inside Fastball but instead swings right through the Cutter that stays put horizontally:

Much like the Sinker, it appears that McCarthy is moving away from using the Cutter as much as he has in the past. McCarthy’s Cutter usage has been steadily declining since 2012 when he threw it nearly half the time at 47.2% usage. It’s a great pitch to mix in at the right time when batters are expecting running action and Brandon had the right pitch mix working on Sunday against the righty-heavy lineup of the Rockies.

Curveball

McCarthy was throwing a dandy of a Curveball all afternoon. He tossed 24 Curves (33.3% usage) that landed 17 strikes and got 4 whiffs on 11 swings. The Curveball averaged 80.4mph and maxed out at 83.3mph. Brandon looked incredibly comfortable throwing the breaking ball on Sunday with a majority of his Curves landing around the knees within the strikezone. It brought some pretty sharp break too and the majority of hitters that saw the pitch didn’t look ready to hit it.

A good introductory look at McCarthy’s bender is this 78mph Curveball he throws to Brandon Barnes for the strike to get ahead in the count right away:

Another similar looking Curveball is this 1-0 79mph offering that McCarthy snaps off and breaks from above the belt down to the knees of Colorado’s six-foot-four-inch second baseman DJ LeMahieu for a strike:

Someone who really struggles hitting at Dodger Stadium lately is Carlos Gonzalez. After chasing this diving 82mph Curveball from McCarthy for the swinging strikeout, Car-Go was 1 for his last 27 at-bats at Dodger Stadium with 19 strikeouts. Great pitch in a 1-2 count:

Apart from his 2011 season with the A’s, the Curveball has always been a part of McCarthy’s arsenal. On Sunday in particular, he was showing confidence in throwing the pitch in any count to both righties and lefties. It was his clear favorite counterpart to the Fastball and hitters were looking very off-balanced and unprepared to hit the breaking ball.

Final line: 5.0 IP, 2 Hs, 0 ER, 1 BBs, 8 Ks, W. 72 pitches (49 strikes), 11/18 first pitch strikes

There’s always something extra special about a pitcher making his first start since undergoing Tommy John surgery. On Sunday against the Rockies, Brandon McCarthy proved to the Dodgers, as well as himself, that he still has the ability to succeed at the major league level.

The Fastball velocity was already back to normal and then some, he located a majority of his pitches within the strikezone, and hitters were looking uncomfortable with their swings while not making solid contact on any of his pitch types. All welcoming signs to the idea that Brandon McCarthy is back and ready to prove that the 4-year $48 million contract he signed prior to the 2015 season was worth the price tag.

Some guys you just find yourself rooting for regardless of team affiliation and McCarthy is one of those guys for me. He seems like a genuine dude outside of baseball, he does some pretty amazing charity work, and he’s likely the funniest ballplayer to follow on Twitter.

Brandon is also a self-proclaimed addict of Fangraphs, and admits that he looks at the stats on the site to help his pitching approach. He’ll look at which pitches are giving up the most runs and adjust accordingly. This would help to explain the wide variance in pitch type usage from season to season.

He’s overcome a lot in his career, including taking a line drive to the head back in 2012 while he was pitching for the Athletics that resulted in a fractured skull, an epidural hemorrhage, and a brain contusion. If anyone in the MLB has the mental makeup to overcome the hurdles of Tommy John surgery, I’d put my money on Brandon McCarthy. Welcome back.

Let’s end this breakdown with this sexy 80mph Curveball McCarthy throws to Brandon Barnes in a 1-2 count to get the whiff and the swinging strikeout. Nice sharp breaking action located well down in the zone:

Ian Post contributes for Pitcher List and grew up on the game of baseball by playing year-round through adolescence and pitching in college before finding his love for writing about the sport. When he isn’t providing pitching analysis, he can be found faithfully rooting for the Mariners, watching Game of Thrones, and searching for a new favorite IPA in the Pacific Northwest. You can follow Ian on Twitter @TheDonGiggity

Nick Pollack

Founder of Pitcher List. Creator of CSW, The List, and SP Roundup. Worked with MSG, FanGraphs, CBS Sports, and Washington Post. Former college pitcher, travel coach, pitching coach, and Brandeis alum. Wants every pitcher to be dope.

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