By Jason Wojciechowski on November 12, 2011 at 10:00 AM
(Major slackage around here lately. Let's get back to this.)
Andrew Carignan faced the third-fewest hitters on the A's this season, just 31. That's actually tied with Bobby Cramer, but I break the tie with the fact that Bobby Cramer has spent more than one year on the A's, so he gets the honor of coming after Carignan in the retrospective series.
Carignan is a 25-year-old righty (he counted as 24 for the purposes of the 2011 season -- his birthday is in late July) and an A's 5th-round pick in 2007 out of North Carolina (the college). The fifth round that year was actually a rather productive one: Jake Arrieta, Michael Taylor, and Marc Rzepczynski all went ahead of Carignan in the round. (The rest of the A's draft did not turn out so well: Colin Cowgill and Daniel Schlereth did not sign, Grant Desme retired into the priesthood, and James Simmons and Sean Doolittle haven't panned out. There's still some hope for Corey Brown, but he's in Washington.)
Photo courtesy of Chris Lockard
Carignan was pretty well regarded by Baseball America -- they named him the A's 22nd best prospect in their 2008 book, the winter after he was drafted. Among righty relievers, he was listed behind only co-draftee Sam Demel. The book's commentary noted a 92-94 fastball, two breaking pitches, and a change, which sounds to me like a whole lot of pitches for a short reliever. (I meant "short" in terms of innings pitched, but Carignan is only 5'11", so it works both ways.) Carignan's fastball was his best pitch, and he'd shown an ability to get movement in both directions (cut and run), but it "lack[ed] true natural life," which I take to mean that, without putting additional effort into the pitch, his standard fastball was straight. His secondary pitches were not good.
In the 2009 book, Carignan fell behind the newly emerged Henry Rodriguez and Andrew Bailey as well as the recently drafted Brett Hunter. He was still ranked 25th in the system after racking up a 12 K/9 season spent mostly as Midland's (AA) closer. All those whiffs came with six walks per nine, however -- his ERA was low (2.01 overall), but you won't survive long as any type of pitcher with that type of walk rate. The Baseball America commentary noted that his fastball was now 91-96, and that he'd developed one of his breaking pitches into a better-defined slider, while still throwing the occasional curve. The change appears to have disappeared. His fastball was still straight.
The 2009 season saw Brett Hunter take a tumble and Andrew Bailey graduate to the big leagues, so Carignan, while maintaining his 25th-overall ranking in the A's system, was placed behind only Henry Rodriguez on the RHRP depth chart. Unfortunately, he did not get a chance to move up because he had missed the entire 2009 season with a sore forearm, pitching just two innings in the fall for Stockton (A+). Carignan's fastball was against listed in the 92-94 range, and the A's switched his main breaking pitch from the slider to a 12-to-6 curve. A changeup was mentioned, but its quality was not.
The 2010 season was a disaster: Carignan still struck out 12 men per nine, but he walked over a batter per inning while spending the entire season in Stockton. He dropped out of Baseball America's Oakland Top 30 and found himself listed behind such luminaries on the RHRP depth chart as Paul Smyth, A.J. Griffin, and Connor Hoehn.
Things did not look good, but Carignan got his act together in 2011. For the first time in his pro career, he got his walk rate under control. Better, he did it while zooming all the way from Stockton to the bigs, maintaining a minor-league whiff rate around ten per nine and striking out five in six innings in September action for Oakland. Carignan had one very poor outing, giving up five hits (one homer) and a walk in twelve batters against Texas, but he also had a very nice two-inning, three-strikeout appearance against Kansas City a week earlier.
The PITCHf/x data (still using the graphs at Texas Leaguers as my own database is a work in progress) shows a 91-95 fastball averaging just shy of 94, a tick up from what Baseball America had reported previously. The Gameday classification system registered two breaking pitches, but the velocity vs. spin angle chart makes it seem like Baseball America had the better of this one, that Carignan has moved to a curve as his breaker:
You can also see two changeups on that chart. Even given that he was pitching in mop-up situations, I think throwing two changes in 123 pitches is a sign that you're a two-pitch pitcher.
Carignan remains on the 40-man roster, and has a lot of good players in front of him (Andrew Bailey, Grant Balfour, Craig Breslow, Fautino De Los Santos), one who's not very good but probably isn't going anywhere (Brian Fuentes), and then a couple of guys who might be considered competition for a low-man spot in the 'pen (Joey Devine, Jerry Blevins). Given the injury and performance variability of relief pitchers in general and this crew in particular, it would not be crazy to see Carignan pitching some seventh innings at some point prior to September next season. I don't imagine that he's special enough to remain on the roster for the entire season (barring, say, a trade of Andrew Bailey, Grant Balfour, or Brian Fuentes that bumps everyone up a notch and opens up a full-time spot down the line), but unless his newfound control is a mirage, I don't see any reason that he can't be a solid middle reliever on the cheap for the next couple of seasons.