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Brandon McCarthy vs. Scott Baker

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Prospect Smackdown: Brandon McCarthy vs. Scott Baker

Two American League Central pitchers who should be dueling each other for the next few years.

BACKGROUND and INTANGIBLES
McCarthy: Brandon McCarthy was a 17th round draft pick in 2002, out of Lamar Community College in Colorado. He pitched well in junior college, but was something of an unsung player, not well scouted by most teams even though he dominated JC competition. He emerged as a successful professional pitcher very quickly, especially in 2003 when he posted a 125/15 K/BB ratio in 101 innings in the Pioneer League. Scouts praise his work ethic and emotional presence on the mound.
Baker: Scott Baker was a 2nd round draft pick in 2003, out of Oklahoma State University. He was a decent starter for OSU in '01 and '02, then emerged with a strong '03 season that established him as one of the better college pitchers available in the draft. Like McCarthy, he adjusted quickly to pro competition, and draws praise for his work ethic and feel for the game.
Advantage: Baker had a higher profile as an amateur and faced better competition, but both pitchers draw praise for their intellect, confidence, and feel for the game. Overall, I rate this as a draw.

PHYSICALITY and TOOLS
McCarthy: McCarthy is 22 years old, listed at 6-7, 180 pounds. He is quite tall and lanky, but unlike many tall pitchers, his mechanics are clean and relatively consistent, which helps him maintain good control. His fastball comes in at 90-93 MPH, depending on his grip. He also has a good curveball and changeup, although he will go through phases when he doesn't use the changeup enough. He kept the ball down well in previous seasons, but pitched up in the strike zone more often in '05, resulting in more home runs than in the past. He has been durable so far, without any serious health concerns.
Baker: Baker is 24 years old, listed at 6-4, 215 pounds. He has more of a classic pitcher's build than McCarthy, although like McCarthy his mechanics are clean and consistent, part of the reason he has good command. His fastball works comfortably at 90-93 MPH, though he can hit 94-95 when he needs additional oomph. He also has an above-average changeup, as well as two breaking balls, a slider and a curve. Although Baker has been healthy as a pro, he had a bout of elbow trouble in college. Surgery was avoided, but Baker will sometimes lose velocity and life on his pitches when tired.
Advantage: This is a matter of taste. McCarthy is younger, but Baker has a more classic pitcher's body and fewer potential mechanical breakdown points. On the other hand, Baker also has a history of minor injuries. They have similar velocity and arm strength. Baker is probably a bit more polished, but that is balanced out by the age difference. Another draw all things considered.

PERFORMANCE
McCarthy: McCarthy posted strong K/IP and K/BB ratios in the minor leagues. In 471 career minor league innings, he posted a 3.38 ERA and a 536/92 K/BB, 1.09 WHIP. In the majors, he went 3-2, 4.03 in 67 innings, with a 48/17 K/BB. K/9 was 6.45 vs. 2.28 BB/9., 1.18 WHIP.
Baker: Baker posted strong K/IP and K/BB ratios in the minor leagues. In 355 career innings in the minors, Baker posted a 3.04 ERA and a 299/68 K/BB in 355 innings, 1.08 WHIP. In the majors, he went 3-3, 3.35 in 54 innings, with a 32/14 K/BB, 5.37 K/9, 2.35 BB/9, 1.16 WHIP.
Advantage. Again, very similar. McCarthy has a superior strikeout rate in both the majors and the minors, but Baker has a slightly better overall WHIP and ERA. Nevertheless, I think McCarthy has a very slight advantage here due to the strikeouts. It's so close you can make a case either way.

PROJECTION
McCarthy: Because of his size and youth, McCarthy may pick up additional velocity as he fills out his body. His command and control are already excellent given his age. He needs to use the changeup more often, but has shown the willingness to learn.
Baker: Baker has less physical projection left than McCarthy, being older and shorter. He probably won't pick up additional velocity. On the other hand, he also has fewer things to learn about pitching.
Advantage: Once again, it's very close, but I think McCarthy has more room to improve if only because he is younger.

OVERALL
McCarthy has very slight advantages in performance and projectability, although different analysts could come to different conclusions. Background, intangibles, and physicality/tools are all even in my view, the strengths of each pitcher balancing themselves out.
Overall, I think McCarthy comes out a hair ahead, due to being younger and having a higher strikeout rate.

Poll question in the comments thread.

Poll

Who will have a better/longer career?

This poll is closed

  • 60%
    Brandon McCarthy
    (120 votes)
  • 39%
    Scott Baker
    (78 votes)
198 votes total Vote Now