Did The Cardinals Overwork Chris Carpenter?

Given that the injury is now being reported as a hamstring strain, we can be pretty sure that his workload last year didn’t cause this injury. Still, the point of the post stands.

The hits just keep coming for the St. Louis Cardinals, as Chris Carpenter left the mound with the team trainer after throwing 32 pitches today. Following the loss of Adam Wainwright and the devastating blow of Nick Punto‘s absence – as well as some contract talks that might not have gone very well – the Cardinals just can’t afford to keep hemorrhaging talent.

Carpenter, of course, is no stranger to the DL. He’s had both labrum and Tommy John surgery, and essentially missed entire seasons in 2003, 2007, and 2008. Carpenter has an extensive history of arm problems, so today’s news isn’t entirely shocking. That said, when Carpenter has been healthy enough to pitch, he’s been a workhorse. In 2005/2006, he was third in total innings pitched behind only Johan Santana and Brandon Webb. Last year, he threw 235 innings, tied with Dan Haren for the fourth most in baseball.

It would be easy to try and draw a straight line between Carpenter’s workloads and his frequent trips to the disabled list. After all, not many pitchers can consistently throw 230 innings in a season and stay healthy, and Carpenter hasn’t exactly distinguished himself as a unique specimen whose body can withstand the punishment. However, I want to caution against trying to correlate Carpenter’s innings totals and arm problems, because in reality, he doesn’t work nearly as hard as the innings totals might lead you to believe.

In 2005, Carpenter was tied for second in baseball in innings pitched, but finished just 15th in pitches thrown. Because of his efficiency, he actually managed to throw 160 fewer pitches than Noah Lowry despite totaling an additional 37 innings of work that year. Roy Oswalt, who was tied with Carpenter in terms of innings pitched, threw 205 more pitches that year, essentially equivalent to two extra starts.

The next year was even more remarkable. Carpenter was eighth in innings pitched but 37th in pitches thrown. It took Dontrelle Willis nearly 400 extra pitches to throw virtually the same number of innings as Carpenter tossed in 2006.

He did set a career high in pitches last year, but the 3,549 he threw is not an obscene total by any means. Ervin Santana – also working his way back from arm problems – was given a similar workload by the Angels. As far as we know, his arm is not yet hurting this spring.

Could the Cardinals have given Carpenter a reduced workload last year? Sure. Would it have kept him healthy? It’s impossible to know for sure, but Carpenter has managed to end up on the operating table numerous times without ever being worked too heavily in any single season before. Perhaps the Cardinals decision to push him to new levels at age 35 involved some risk, but it was a justifiable risk in the face of a pennant race, and Carpenter was not asked to handle an unreasonable workload.

The guy just gets hurt a lot. The Cardinals decided to maximize the value they could extract from him while he was healthy. I can’t blame them for that, and I don’t think we should accept that the number of innings he has thrown when healthy have contributed to his arm problems. Carpenter’s a highly efficient starting pitcher who simply breaks down regularly, and I don’t know that there’s much that anyone can really do about it.

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Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

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Cards fans must be on high alert … all this for a hammy strain? Seriously, they should just trade Pujols to the Phillies for Howard and Blanton already. :)


I assume that Rube gives back the photos he has of Mozeliak offing that hooker in such a scenario too, right?