Chris Carpenter Hurt and Probably Finished

Earlier Tuesday, word got around that the St. Louis Cardinals had called an afternoon press conference. Word got around because the Cardinals spread it. Immediately, there was some speculation that the Cardinals had made an acquisition. There was also speculation that the Cardinals were going to announce a long-term contract extension for a player or coach. But then there were whispers that the news conference would have to do with Chris Carpenter‘s future, and many began to expect a retirement announcement. Carpenter has not retired, but retirement doesn’t appear to be far off.

Carpenter’s coming off major surgery, and he started throwing early on this offseason to test his body. Recently, he informed the Cardinals that he’s feeling similar symptoms to the ones he experienced a year ago. He’s going to get himself examined, but the Cardinals all but wrote him off for 2013, and they repeatedly referred to Carpenter in the past tense. This is not a Chris Carpenter retirement article, but you can consider it just one step below.

Said Carpenter not all that long ago:

“If I have more health issues I’m not going to continue to try to battle through,” Carpenter said at the team’s annual Winter Warm-Up when asked about what his plans were for after the 2013 season.

Last year, he was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, and so he had a career-threatening operation. He made it back to pitch toward the end of the year and then in the playoffs, but with discomfort recurring, Carpenter probably feels like he doesn’t have much left to prove. As noted during the conference, the top priority now is going to be for Carpenter to ensure that he can live a normal life off the field with his baseball career behind him. There’s family business to tend to, and Carpenter would like to be at or around 100%.

What we have to do first is discuss the various immediate implications. Most obviously, this is a shot to the Cardinals’ projected 2013 starting rotation. Adam Wainwright and Jake Westbrook are the locks, and Jaime Garcia seems to be doing well in his recovery from shoulder issues. Lance Lynn appears to have an inside track, meaning the fifth spot is up for grabs. By name value, losing Carpenter is a significant loss.

But this doesn’t obliterate the Cardinals’ playoff hopes, or turn the Reds into the hands-down favorites in the NL Central. The Reds were probably already the favorites by a hair, but if you want, you can replace Carpenter in your head with Shelby Miller. Or Joe Kelly, or Trevor Rosenthal. The Cardinals aren’t going to be trying to replace an ace with a replacement-level 30-year-old. They’re going to be trying to replace a talented question mark with a similarly talented question mark. The Cardinals have depth, and they’re still very much a threat to Cincinnati.

A question that came up during the conference was whether or not this makes it more likely the Cardinals re-sign Kyle Lohse. I can give you the mathematical answer to that: yes, this makes it more likely the Cardinals re-sign Kyle Lohse. There’s now more of an opening, and Lohse is still on the market, and the Cardinals wouldn’t have to sacrifice their draft pick. But they would have to sacrifice the potential compensation draft pick, and recently there were indications the Cardinals and Lohse hadn’t spoken in ages. The two sides are intimately familiar with one another, and the Cardinals haven’t made any real effort to bring Lohse back. They’ll talk about it now, and Scott Boras will put on his persuasive hat, but the Cardinals don’t necessarily have to be Lohse’s solution to unemployment. While they have more of a fit, they don’t have a need.

John Mozeliak, in the conference, highlighted Miller, Kelly, and Rosenthal, in addition to Lynn. In November, Marc Hulet ranked Miller the #3 prospect in a stacked system. Rosenthal was ranked #6. ZiPS sees all these guys as being some approximation of league-average, and last year over 16 starts with St. Louis Kelly put up a 97 ERA- and a 104 xFIP-. Obviously a guy like Miller also comes with legitimate breakthrough potential. If you think of the Cardinals’ situation as going from a proven veteran to an unproven youngster, you might get one idea. But there were a lot of questions about Carpenter going forward, so the gap between projections isn’t enormous. This is more an issue with regard to depth and leadership.

At last, there’s Carpenter. I already said this isn’t a retirement article, and I don’t want to treat Carpenter like he’s absolutely toast. Sometimes players will surprise you. But as Carpenter is slowed by an injury now, we have an opportunity to reflect on all that he’s overcome. Brandon Webb reminded us yesterday that pitchers can break in a hurry, and never recover. Chris Carpenter reminds us today that pitchers can break in a hurry, multiple times, but no throwing injury has to be a death sentence. Survival is possible, and Carpenter gives hope.

Carpenter was drafted in the middle of the first round all the way back in 1993. Selected before him was Derrek Lee, and selected after him was Alan Benes. After 1994, Carpenter appeared at #100 on the Baseball America top-100 list of prospects. The next year, he moved up to #82. The year after that, he moved up to #28. Carpenter debuted in the majors in 1997 at the age of 22, and he did hold his own. Between 1997-2002, Carpenter, overall, was about a league-average pitcher.

Then came the labrum surgery that cost him all of 2003. No matter; Carpenter signed with the Cardinals, and excelled for three years. Then came the elbow surgery and subsequent shoulder injury that cost him most of 2007 and 2008. No matter; Carpenter came back and excelled for three years. Then came the thoracic outlet syndrome that cost him most of 2012. No matter; Carpenter came back to pitch in the playoffs. He recovered ahead of schedule, at the age of 37. Carpenter might be finished now because of an injury, but he’s already fought through the worst ones and come out clean on the other side.

Carpenter gives hope to pitchers diagnosed with significant shoulder problems. He gives hope to pitchers diagnosed with significant elbow problems, and he gives hope to pitchers written off as being too injury-prone. Carpenter kept on making it back, and while a portion of the credit goes to the doctors, Carpenter’s career speaks to his incredible spirit and work ethic. Chris Carpenter became the ace he was projected to be as a prospect. And Chris Carpenter earned it, because his career didn’t come easy. Carpenter missed all of 2003 due to the dreaded shoulder labrum operation. Two years later, he won the National League Cy Young.

In terms of results, Carpenter hasn’t put together a Hall of Fame career. Even should he add to it, he doesn’t stand to add much, and he’s thrown fewer innings than Randy Wolf. He’s got a lower WAR than Brad Radke and John Burkett. He hasn’t reached 150 wins, let alone 200, and Carpenter’s outstanding success in the playoffs doesn’t make up for the fact that he doesn’t have the regular-season numbers. Carpenter’s career, simply, has been very good.

But Carpenter has had Hall of Fame talent, and he’s fought like hell to take that talent to the field. It might be that an injury brings an end to Carpenter’s career, but that doesn’t mean the injuries won. Carpenter won, against the longest of odds.



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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.


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Uncle Randy
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Uncle Randy
3 years 4 months ago

No matter how good we get at analyzing and objectifying this sport, there never be a way to quantify Chris Carpenters intangibles. He will go down as my favorite all-time cardinal.

algionfriddo
Member
algionfriddo
3 years 4 months ago

I’m old enough that NOBODY that all lists start with… Stan the Man.
Capenter was and still is (I hope), a damn fine choice though. I do respect Bob Gibson a great deal as well.

Uncle Randy
Guest
Uncle Randy
3 years 4 months ago

My point is, people in my generation will talk to their sons about Carpenter the way that my dad talks to me about Gibson and my grandpa about Musial. Albert leaving obviously helps, but I never gravitated towards him like I did Carp.

Jim
Guest
Jim
3 years 4 months ago

Is this really the case? I’ll admit that I’m more of an A.L. fan than an N.L. fan, but the sum total of things I know about Chris Carpenter are a) he was the Jays’ damaged goods who was never that good in the first place and then became a castoff, who somehow managed to throw up a few good years in the twilight of his career with the Cards, and b) he and Curt Schilling are the only examples of pitchers with labrum tears to come back to be succesful pitchers (you could make an argument for Ted Lilly, but outside of a couple of fluky years with the Cubs he was never much of a pitcher).

That’s it. He had six full seasons with the Cards, and while they were good seasons, they weren’t anything spectacular. Throwing the names Musial and Gibson around with Chris Carpenter would be the general equivalent of a Red Sox fan comparing Josh Beckett to Ted Williams and Pedro Martinez. He never had a 7 WAR season. From this (admittedly A.L. biased) fan’s perspective, he was never really considered one of the top pitchers in baseball. (Yes, he won a Cy Young Award in 2005. So did Bartolo Colon.)

That just seems like a lot of hyperbole for a completely forgettable player, is all I’m saying.

tyke
Guest
tyke
3 years 4 months ago

i second this. he also always struck me as one of the biggest douchebags in the sport, also (which, if i’m honest, is probably why i am trying to marginalize him).

Todd
Guest
Todd
3 years 4 months ago

You should watch more NL baseball before making an ignorant comment. Hell, his 1-0 gem in the 2011 NLDS against Roy Halladay would guarantee he’s something much more than “forgettable” even if that were the only game he’d ever pitched.

stan
Guest
stan
3 years 4 months ago

Three time all-star, Cy Young award winner, post-season hero several times over in six full years. Yeah, that’s nothing special. Finished second and third in the Cy Young race in two other years. 8th, 19th and 14th in the MVP race. Even if you were the most casual fan you would know better than this just from watching the 2006 and 2011 world series. I smell a troll.

TKDC
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TKDC
3 years 4 months ago

I love when people start posts by saying they don’t know much and then go on to show it is the case in detail.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11
3 years 4 months ago

I’ll always think of him as being a “red ass” on the mound. Always agitated about something. I was always confused at how Gibson was revered for having that mentality, but somehow Carpenter was viewed (by non-StL fans) as being an irritating jerk.

The 2011 season will always stand out for me, in regards to Carpenter. In Spring Training the season was supposed to be “over” when AW50 went down. But there was CC29 in the LDS out-dueling the best pitcher in baseball.

Small sample size be damned, CC29’s post-season numbers are quite a bit better than his career averages. If you just take his cardinal stats, his post-season numbers are still lower (even against better teams).

The thing I admire most about CC29 is that even on days where he didn’t “have it” and gave up some early runs you got the sense that in his mind he was thinking “Okay, they don’t get any more from this point forward.”

LK
Guest
LK
3 years 4 months ago

I bet if we watched Gibson when he pitched, we would think he’s an irritating jerk. In 40 years, I bet Carpenter will be revered for that mentality too.

tyke
Guest
tyke
3 years 4 months ago

what in the hell are those letters and numbers supposed to be

Sandy Kazmir
Guest
3 years 4 months ago

Isn’t this the argument that Jack Morris apologists use to get him in the HoF? Carp seems like the kind of guy you pull for. For all the reasons outlined above, but he’s more like Paul O’Niell to late 90s Yankee fans than some sort of transcendant performer that could have shattered records if only he stayed healthy ala Koufax. A nice player to have rooted for and he’ll be missed, but lets not confuse a candy corn for a Snickers bar.

Jake
Guest
Jake
3 years 4 months ago

Carpenter made mlb.tv worth it. As a saberhead I love a player like Carpenter that proves that there is always an opportunity to have the talent of “winningness.” Especially as a starting pitcher.

Travis L
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Travis L
3 years 4 months ago

This comment hardly makes sense. “I love a player…that proves there is always an opportunity to have the talent of ‘winningness.'”

So you’re saying he has the opportunity to have the talent of intangibles?

Josh
Guest
Josh
3 years 4 months ago

Fangraphs get your Carp GIF montage together…it’s gonna be a good one.

My echo and bunnymen
Guest
3 years 4 months ago

I’ll remember best for the postseasons he pitched in. To see a man work so hard to recover frominjury to face another and come back was a blessing. He has proven himself enough and he has a couple rings to show for his work.

Anon
Guest
Anon
3 years 4 months ago

‘Hall of Fame talent’
Absolutely. However, his health is on the other end of the spectrum.

Look at his 04-06 and 09-11 with the Cardinals. Around 700 IP in each of those streches (including postseason).

His career moment is definitely the 1-0 duel against Halladay (2011 NLDS Game 5).

Andre the Angels Fan
Guest
Andre the Angels Fan
3 years 4 months ago

Sorry that was supposed to be a +1 for the Halliday duel. My favorite memory of Carp, and the one that made me a fan of his.

chief00
Member
chief00
3 years 4 months ago

“Chris Carpenter reminds us today that pitchers can break in a hurry, multiple times, but no throwing injury has to be a death sentence.” I’m not sure what to think about this. Any pitcher trying to recover from several devastating injuries must have AT LEAST: Carp’s incredible drive; a tenacity that kept him returning again and again and again; and a team that kept allowing him the time to recover. That last point is crucial: a supportive organization that believes in you must be a major source of encouragement.

As a Jays’ fan I spent several years being somewhat disappointed by Carpenter. He was a highly-regarded prospect who was league average. Then there were the injuries. Then he went to STL and I spent a while fuming about Carpenter, because he never reached those lofty heights with the Jays. Then I mellowed and enjoyed Carpenter’s career. Sure, I wish the titles had happened in TOR but c’est la vie…

He just kept coming back and playing at a high level so frequently. He was tougher to get rid of than Rasputin, for crying out loud. If he’s finished, then the game is poorer for it. This Blue Jays’ fan is pleased to have witnessed sizable chunks of his career.

Bob
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Bob
3 years 4 months ago

Gracious observations, Chief. And that’s a thoughtful, sympathetic write-up, Jeff. Thanks.

cpebbles
Guest
cpebbles
3 years 4 months ago

It’s funny to think back to the 2005 NL Cy Young arguments. Dontrelle overtook Carpenter in ERA in a late-season stretch when he was coasting, and had the extra win (And 5 extra losses), leading to the ESPN’s infamous “Sorry, Dontrelle.” Meanwhile, all the amateur sabermetricians were up in arms that Roger Clemens, the obvious best pitcher in baseball, was being punished for his teammates not doing enough for him (Ignore that .240s BABIP and the support he got from his bullpen). Hard to believe that defense-independent pitching was still so esoteric a concept just a little over seven years ago that almost nobody would argue that the sportswriters had gotten it right.

Jim
Guest
Jim
3 years 4 months ago

CPebbles: I don’t know why you find that hard to believe. It was less than seven years ago, probably only five or six, that I was finally dragged, kicking and screaming, away from the traditional camp of coaches who have always believed batter walks to be a bad thing (“At least swing at it and put the ball in play; if you strikeout, strikeout like a man instead of taking a walk like a little girl!”)

LK
Guest
LK
3 years 4 months ago

To be fair, Clemens had a huge lead in RA9-Wins, and even if you remove the BIP-wins they’d be tied. I’d vote for Clemens if the ballots were being recast today.

pft
Guest
pft
3 years 4 months ago

I doubt Carpenter retires even if he does not pitch again this year. He would want to collect on his 2013 salary before retiring.

Panda
Guest
Panda
3 years 4 months ago

Not necessarily. As much as he has made, he might just pull a Gil Meche. Either way it doesn’t really matter, the Cardinals aren’t short on money and they aren’t looking to sign any one at this point anyway, probably.

stan
Guest
stan
3 years 4 months ago

The Cardinals ARE short on money. Have you paid any attention to their offseason? Carpenter is due to make $12.5M this year and isn’t officially retiring just so he can collect that money. People forget that Mark McGwire walked away without collecting the salary he was due in his last year. That and Meche are the only examples I can think of where that happened. I imagine (hope?) that there is some sort of insurance policy or arrangement between he and the team to sort this out though.

john joe
Guest
john joe
3 years 4 months ago

The Cardinals aren’t swimming in money like LA teams, but they are in great shape due to their farm system and current roster makeup. This offseason could be attributed to being cheap or broke. However, it could also be attributed to remaining patient with young guys and simultaneously pooling resources for when a big time shortstop becomes available. My money is on Tulo being a Cardinal before the trade deadline if he is healthy.

ezb230
Guest
ezb230
3 years 4 months ago

Joe Kelly, not Louis Kelly.

gnomez
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gnomez
3 years 4 months ago

What about Joe Lewis?

ezb230
Guest
ezb230
3 years 4 months ago

I assume he could have put up a sub 100 ERA- if he wanted to.

All Balls No Brains
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All Balls No Brains
3 years 4 months ago

Cardinals 5th spot would now be a great opportunity to try a starter by committee strategy. (http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/play-in-game-strategy-skip-the-starter/ ) Let Miller start and go 3, switch to Kelly for two, Rosenthal for two and then turn it over to the bullpen. Rest and reverse. All the youngins get experience, and stay under innings-limits. Matheney won’t do it, but man it would be fun. Oh yeah, and Carpenter is the man. I’m sad that we may never get to see Carp versus Trout. All told.

stan
Guest
stan
3 years 4 months ago

That’s a great point. I doubt we’ll see it happen but it would be a time to try an experiment like that.

Cliff
Guest
Cliff
3 years 4 months ago

How will Chris carpenter explain this to his kids? But in all honesty, I recall multiple instances of carpenter publicly blasting infielders for plays he thinks they should have made. You just can’t do that to a teammate, especially not in the dugout or on the field where the cameras are watching. He will always strike me as one of those players you love if he’s on your team, but everyone else just sees as a jerk. He is he asshole friend who is nice “once you get to know him”

stan
Guest
stan
3 years 4 months ago

No, you recall multiple instances of Carpenter blasting one infielder: Brendan Ryan. Ryan was/ is a flake and once kept Carpenter waiting on the mound when he was ready to start the inning. He also pulled Ryan into the hall to let him know what he thought of an attempted flash play that Ryan fumbled.

Billy
Guest
Billy
3 years 4 months ago

I believe players like this are what make great teams great. You need a guy who’s not afraid to call you out when they think you could’ve given more effort and let you know you can’t get away with half assing it. Personally I love that attitude in a pitcher, it means you KNOW you’re getting 110% from him every time out there and you have a fighter on the mound for you.

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