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.


13 Responses to “Another Tremendous Stretch”

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  1. DavidCEisen says:

    “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.”

    That argument doesn’t really make sense. The view that Carpenter should be in the bullpen is based on the opinion that he would be much better than that ragtag crew. Saying that Carpenter has added more wins than them doesn’t prove that he shouldn’t be in the bullpen; it doesn’t really prove anything other than the Cards bullpen sucks. There are a bunch of relievers with WARs around 1 at this point in the season, which is where people would hope Carpenter to be.

    I’m not sure where Carpenter should be this season. If he makes over 25 starts than he should be in the rotation if he makes less than 15 he probably should have been in the pen. There is no way of knowing now how his body will hold up, nor is it possible to know how he would do in the pen, either.

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      I actually forgot to include a line at the end of that paragraph. The point is that a stud starter, even in limited action, is more valuable to a team than a reliever. Just like how we discussed earlier that 15 GS of Ben Sheets + 15 GS of replacement level pitcher is worth more to a team than 30 starts of an average pitcher.

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      • Davidceisen says:

        I agree with what you added to the end of the paragraph. I’m still not entirely sure, though, where I stand on this issue. I don’t know too much about the Cards, but it would depend on who replaced Carpenter in the rotation. I’m assuming that Wellemeyer is getting dropped from the rotation (is this correct?). ZiPS sees him pitching well the rest of the year as a starter, and probably ending the season around 1.7-2 WAR.

        The question is whether Carpenter in the pen + Wellemeyer in the rotation is worth more wins than Carpenter in the rotation + Wellemeyer in the pen, right?

        Last year there were only 10 relievers with WARs equal or greater than 2. For arguments sake, lets assume Carpenter would be worth ~2 WAR as a reliever. As a starter he could finish anywhere between 2.5-6 (right?). We would also need to estimate Wellemeyer’s value in the pen, which I’m not sure how to do, but I’ll roughly estimate .5.
        So Wellemeyer in the rotation + Carpenter in the bullpen = ~3.5-4 WAR?

        And Carpenter in the rotation + Wellemeyer in the pen = ~3-6.5 WAR?

        Based off of those extremely rough estimates, it appears there is more upside with Carpenter in the rotation, though even I don’t trust my guesses.

        Eric, you’re better at these WAR values than I am, so maybe you could help me out here.

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      • Eric Seidman says:

        David,

        That’s of course assuming that Carpenter works well in the bullpen, which is not a sure thing at all. We know he is a dominant starter when healthy, and I would estimate him at around 4.5 wins if he can make 20 starts. Your average reliever probably gets about 0.5 wins. This is why starters are always better than relievers unless the reliever has a Gagne-like season, which we both know is incredibly rare.

        Give me 15 GS of Carpenter and 15 of Wellemeyer as opposed to 30 GS of Wellemeyer with Carpenter as the closer.

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      • Davidceisen says:

        4.5 would be his 3rd best season, though based on his first 4 starts of this season it is hard to argue against that.

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      • Eric Seidman says:

        But that’s only due to health. If he had stayed healthy in 2007-08, he might have posted two more +5 win seasons. In 2004, if he made 6-7 more starts he might have been around +4.5 as well.

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  2. Hugo says:

    Wellemeyer is in the rotation regardless of Carp, Carp actually replaced Mitchell Boggs, or more aptly Boggs filled in for Carp while he was on the DL. If Carp is healthy, and it seems he might be, then I have no problem with him in the rotation, but if his elbow is bothering him after 50 pitches or so it would make no sense to use him as a starter. Just because he has put up a good line so far doesn’t me he was guaranteed to do it. Hindsight is 20/20.

    I also don’t get what you mean about “The success of the Cardinals is certainly married to the production levels of Albert Pujols and Ryan Ludwick,” Are you saying that those two are carrying the offense? That may be true but over the current winning stretch (not really a streak) Ludwick was on the DL and Pujols has been “human” with the offense being carried by small ball tactics.

    I do agree this team is better with Carp than without but I don’t think the postseason hinges on him and him alone.

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      Hugo, their success on the whole is definitely tied to Pujols and Ludwick. Sure, other players contribute, but if those two miss significant time or perform at subpar levels, the team ain’t going anywhere.

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  3. Ryan says:

    Not sure about all the bashing of the Cardinals bullpen. Right now they are 4th in ERA in MLB. That doesn’t seem like “ineptitude” or a “ragtag crew,” as the first commenter put it. Perez is pitching very well. Motte is dominating after his opening day meltdown. Franklin is one of the top closers in baseball so far. Kinney has not been on the team so far this year, as far as I recall. Reyes and Miller are good LOOGYs, and Thompson is adequate, if not spectacular, in long relief. Will they continue to be this good? I think yes, if they are not over-exposed. Last year’s poor effort by the bullpen was mainly attributable, I think, to Izzy and overuse caused by issues with the starting rotation. So far this year the bullpen is not being used too heavily, and the result is good performance (plus this year’s bullpen is clearly improved with the addition of Motte and Perez’s continued maturation).

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  4. WY says:

    The bullpen was inept last year. I know that from personal experience. The key culprits from last year — Izzy, Villone, Flores — are gone, though.

    However, it has not been inept this year. Kinney went down after the first two weeks, Motte had a couple of bad outings and has settled down, and Boyer carries some bad numbers from his early outings with the Braves. But on the whole, the bullpen so far has been good in terms of getting results and holding tight leads, regardless of what the underlying numbers might suggest. Whether it continues to be remains to be seen, of course…

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  5. WY says:

    Just to follow up, I imagine that the “inept” tag comes from the FIP numbers. But in terms of other numbers like WPA, ERA, WHIP, and so on, they have been good.

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  6. Mike says:

    I realise by the very nature of WPA it is difficult to predict, but is there a case for Carpenter being more useful in the pen by this metric?

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  7. Thanks for writing this topic. I had been searching for good information about it.

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