McCarthy’s Tactics Reinvent Pitching, Fan Interactions
Published: Thursday, October 18, 2012
Updated: Thursday, October 18, 2012 23:10
There are many great stories in this year’s MLB playoffs. From the Yankees’ persevering through the loss of longtime heroes Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter, to the Cardinals’ repeat bid, there is no shortage of excitement.
Amid all that, however, is one story that hasn’t received enough attention and probably won’t, given that the A’s were eliminated at the hands of the Detroit Tigers. That story is of Oakland pitcher Brandon McCarthy. His experience is like none other in baseball, and his strategy and approach will surely be a model for the future.
McCarthy’s story begins like many professional baseball players’: He tore up the minors and then struggled in the majors. But the A’s new ace was not content getting shelled by MLB hitting and instead searched for a new approach — the advanced-statistics-based tactic popularized in “Moneyball” known as sabermetrics.
As a result, McCarthy developed a pitching strategy meant to induce ground balls, which are much less risky for a pitcher than a fly ball. Retooling himself as a pitcher, he added a sinker and cutter and relied less on his fastball. And just as in the movie, the results were quickly apparent.
Given his mid-career transition to the type of pitching they courted, McCarthy was a natural fit for the A’s. In fact, the organization had been pursuing him for years. Oakland had wanted McCarthy for a while before actually signing him, realizing he was too highly priced as a prospect. Instead, the A’s waited until the hurler was almost out of baseball in 2010 and landed him at a cheap price.
The once-struggling prospect took off in Oakland with the help of his new pitching strategy and became a fan favorite. That might have been because McCarthy used sabermetrics not just for pitching but for his public image as well.
Rather than hiding in the clubhouse, giving cryptic answers to reporters’ questions or even throwing ice at them as Deion Sanders once did, McCarthy bypassed the media and became a pioneer of engaging fans directly through Twitter.
By showing his true self using social media, Oakland’s gem has gained popularity outside baseball. His Twitter followers include many famous comedians, and his honest and straightforward interactions are a model for other athletes to follow.
And when he was faced with the ultimate test of being himself, McCarthy did not disappoint. In a horrifying series of events, though, the ace was struck in the head by a line drive and fractured his skull.
Despite being unable to pitch in the postseason as he recuperated from surgery, McCarthy did not use his injury as a chance to retreat from the media. Instead, he took to Twitter to reassure fans that he was doing OK while adding humor to the situation with jokes about the hospital and his fractured skull.
Brandon McCarthy represents the future of American athletes. He recognized that the reason front offices evaluate players by advanced statistics is because they tell the actual story. As a result, he became a pitcher with stellar advanced numbers and is now seeing stronger traditional statistics as well.
More than just revolutionizing the way pitchers and other athletes approach their sport, McCarthy stands a chance to change how they interact with fans as well.
Even though his team is out of the playoffs and therefore off the national scene, McCarthy’s tactics are not going unnoticed in the world of sports. We can expect to see some copycat athletes very soon.
Corey Blaine is a senior in the McDonough School of Business. THE BLEACHER SEATS appears every Friday.