Another Tremendous Stretch

Earlier this week, Dave discussed Justin Verlander‘s solid stretch of performance lately, noting that it had been on par with, if not better than, any stretch belonging to Zack Greinke. Because Verlander opened the season rather poorly, his overall numbers are not as aesthetically pleasing as the Royals righty, but he has certainly found his groove. Another pitcher, however, is currently in the midst of a fantastic stretch to open his season. The numbers of this pitcher might get overlooked, though, considering the substantial gap between starts.

Chris Carpenter made two starts in April, hit the disabled list with an injury caused from batting, and made two more starts over the last ten days. Carp has looked dominant in all four outings, accruing the following line: 23 IP, 10 H, 0 ER, 4 BB, 23 K. Four starts and a 1.1 win value that practically doubles the total wins he has added in 2007 and 2008, when he made a grand total of five appearances. Hitters have managed a mere .127/.169/.152 line with a .193 BABIP, which has certainly fueled his microscopic 0.61 WHIP.

What prevents Carpenter from truly topping stretches put forth by Verlander and Greinke is his innings total. Carpenter has averaged a 71 Game Score through his first four starts, which, while impressive in any fashion, actually falls below all of the top stretches from Verlander and Greinke. Here are the top three from Greinke:

4/8-4/24: 29 IP, 36/6 K/BB, 0.00 ERA, 76 GSC, .186/.239/.245
4/18-5/4: 34 IP, 38/3 K/BB, 0.53 ERA, 80 GSC, .176/.197/.244
4/24-5/9: 33 IP, 33/3 K/BB, 0.82 ERA, 78 GSC, .161/.181/.232
And the top three from Verlander:
4/27-5/14: 29.1 IP,  44/8 K/BB, 0.92 ERA, 77 GSC, .157/.225/.186
5/3- 5/20: 28.1 IP, 43/10 K/BB, 1.27 ERA, 76 GSC, .126/.217/.158
5/8- 5/25: 28.1 IP,  40/7 K/BB, 0.95 ERA, 75 GSC, .155/.212/.175

Carpenter’s opposing slash line bests all six of these stretches, as does his WHIP, but Verlander and Greinke were able to go deeper on average into the games. Still, finishing seventh on this list in terms of the quality of the four game stretch is not anything to frown about.

The success of the Cardinals is certainly married to the production levels of Albert Pujols and Ryan Ludwick, but Carpenter stabilizes the starting rotation and adds a proven ace to the mix. If he cannot stay healthy, the team is not very likely to reach the postseason. Even with his services for 25 or so starts they may struggle to play into October. Though the debate was not as controversial as with Joba Chamberlain, many opined that Carpenter would better serve the Cardinals as their closer this season given the departure of Jason Isringhausen and the likelihood that either Chris Perez or Jason Motte would man the position.

As per usual, starters are more valuable than relievers; the only way making Carpenter the closer would be valid from a statistical standpoint is if he projected to be a below average starter with a relief projection akin to the production levels of Mariano Rivera and Brad Lidge from a year ago. If the decision to have Carpenter close out games was instead derived from the hope that he would remain healthy for a longer period of time, it still smells funny. In four starts, Carpenter has added more wins to the Cardinals than their entire bullpen. If you’re skeptical, the combo of Motte, Franklin, Thompson, Miller, Reyes, Kinney and Boggs (as a reliever) has combined for 0.5 wins above replacement. This speaks more to the ineptitude of their bullpen but serves to show that a good starter in just four starts can be twice as effective, if not more, than a reliever available all season. Plus, who knows how Carpenter would perform in the bullpen or if the supposed lesser workload would prevent injuries?

Due to the gap in time between his starts, Carpenter’s start to the 2009 season is bound to go overlooked, but if he cobbles together a few more incredible outings, it will be impossible to look past his contributions.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

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