joint custody

the p-d's morning elbow report cuts right to the chase: "Cardinals ace Chris Carpenter probably will remain disabled for the rest of this month after an examination Monday disclosed that he is suffering from what the club called moderate arthritis and a mild impingement of the right elbow." our community's own experts weigh in here.

Update [2007-4-10 12:5:28 by lboros]: will carroll just sent me a sneak preview of his remarks for Under the Knife, which haven't posted yet at Baseball Prospectus but ought to appear there shortly. the gist of his comments: surgery looms as a pretty likely outcome. he also warns that with nonsurgical treatment, there's a risk that carp alters his mechanics to favor the elbow --- and thereby re-injures his shoulder or causes some other, more serious injury.[end update]

teams can survive the temporary loss of an ace, but few teams are as dependent upon their ace as the cardinals are. the red sox, defending their championship in 2005, lost curt schilling for most of the first half --- he went to the dl after only 3 starts and stayed there until july 14, and when he returned he was the team's closer; didn't rejoin the rotation until august 25. like the cardinals, those red sox had suffered heavy free-agent defections (derek lowe and pedro martinez) from their title rotation; with schilling gone, they had to get by with tim wakefield, david wells, bronson arroyo, and matt clement. schilling's absence hurt --- they finished 11th in the league in era --- but they still won 95 games, thanks to a 910-run output from the offense.

these cards won't be scoring 5.5 runs a game, though, so the red sox comparison isn't very useful. another, more instructive recipe for survival was demonstrated by --- and in this crowd, i cite the following example with the utmost trepidation --- the 2004 chicago cubs, who managed to improve upon the record of the division-winning 2003 team despite losing both prior and wood for 10 starts apiece. their offense in 2004 wasn't much better (7th in the league in '04, vs 9th in 2003), but their secondary pitchers were much, much better --- matt clement pitched at the top of his range, zambrano emerged as ace material, and greg maddux was a gigantic improvement over the previous year's #5 starter, shawn estes. those cubs entered the final week of the season leading the wild-card race; if not for the collapse of the bullpen in that final week, they would have won 90+ games and made the playoffs --- and would have done so in a league much tougher than this year's nl, with five other teams above 90 wins.

in a best-case scenario, the cardinals would follow a recipe similar to this one (sans the late-september swoon), with the other four starters pitching at or near the top of their games to cover for carpenter during his absence. it's a bit early to start handicapping that prospect, given that we haven't even cycled through the rotation twice yet. but it's not an entirely vain hope. the cardinals themselves can point to a couple of happy precedents, 20 and 40 years ago, respectively. the '87 team lost john tudor to a broken leg after only 3 starts; he was out from april 17 until august 1. those cards were nearly as reliant on their ace as the current team is; the remainder of the rotation prominently featured a 2d-year pitcher (greg mathews), a rookie (joe magrane), and a wizened old codger (bob forsch). herzog tiptoed through the schedule with a couple of replacement pitchers (lee tunnel, tim conroy) and 6 decent starts from rickey horton; by the time tudor returned, the cardinals were 24 games over .500 and 5 games up on the division. the '87 cards had a great offense, which the '07 team doesn't; but then, they faced more difficult competition --- three divisional rivals topped 90 wins that season.

and of course there is the 1967 team, the original El Birdos, who lost their only proven pitcher, bob gibson, for nearly two months (also to a broken leg) and thrived in his absence. i wrote lovingly of that team in this post last june, when pujols went down. citing that entry:

with [gibson's] departure for the disabled list, the st louis rotation consisted of one true rookie, a 28-year-old journeyman named dick hughes; a 22-year-old left-hander in his first full major-league season, steve carlton; a 2d-year player named larry jaster; and one established veteran, ray washburn, who was kind of the jeff suppan of his day. to this mix the cardinals added 23-year-old reliever nelson briles, who had gone 4-15 as a starter the previous season. washburn's career record entering 1967 was 41-37; the other four guys in the gibsonless rotation owned a combined total of 26 major-league wins.
that undistinguished cast led the cardinals from a 3.5-game lead on the nl as of july 9 to an 11.5-game lead by the time gibson returned. i refer you to the full post for details.

i'm not saying this is likely, ok? it's far more likely the cardinals will struggle if carpenter's out for any significant length of time. and the aces of '67 and '87 suffered injuries to their legs; carp's injury is to his arm, a much scarier proposition.

but don't stop watching. not yet.

* * * * * * * * * *

i matched the rotation with the schedule to see where keisler's starts would fall. i realize that keisler's not guaranteed more than one start; if he bombs tonight, they may try brad thompson, matt ginter, or somebody else. so just read keisler as "replacement pitcher" in the ensuing discussion. just for the sake of argument, let's make the assumption that carpenter will be out for another four weeks; i realize his disablement might be shorter or longer, but let's just pretend. if they stick to a straight five-man rotation with no adjustments for off-days, here's how things line up:
4/8 @hou
wells
4/9 @pgh
looper
4/10 @pgh
keisler
4/11 @pgh
wainwright
4/12
OFF
4/13 mil
reyes
4/14 mil
wells
4/15 mil
looper
4/16 pgh
keisler
4/17 pgh
wainwright
4/18 @sf
reyes
4/19 @sf
wells
4/20 @chi
looper
4/21 @chi
keisler
4/22 @chi
wainwright
4/23
OFF
4/24 cin
reyes
4/25 cin
wells
4/26 cin
looper
4/27 chi
keisler
4/28 chi
wainwright
4/29 chi
reyes
4/30 @mil
wells
5/1 @mil
looper
5/2 @mil
keisler
5/3
OFF
5/4 hou
wainwright
5/5 hou
reyes
5/6 hou
wells
5/7 col
looper
5/8 col
carpenter
5/9 col
wainwright
5/10
OFF

that's 5 starts by keisler/replacement guy, all against divisional foes: 2 against pittsburgh, 2 against the cubs, 1 against the brewers. now we'll adjust for the off days, skipping the #5 guy's turn wherever the schedule affords the opportunity:

4/8 @hou
wells
4/9 @pgh
looper
4/10 @pgh
keisler
4/11 @pgh
wainwright
4/12
OFF
4/13 mil
reyes
4/14 mil
wells
4/15 mil
looper
4/16 pgh
wainwright
4/17 pgh
keisler
4/18 @sf
reyes
4/19 @sf
wells
4/20 @chi
looper
4/21 @chi
wainwright
4/22 @chi
keisler
4/23
OFF
4/24 cin
reyes
4/25 cin
wells
4/26 cin
looper
4/27 chi
wainwright
4/28 chi
keisler
4/29 chi
reyes
4/30 @mil
wells
5/1 @mil
looper
5/2 @mil
wainwright
5/3
OFF
5/4 hou
reyes
5/5 hou
wells
5/6 hou
looper
5/7 col
wainright
5/8 col
carpenter
5/9 col
wainwright
5/10
OFF

we eliminate a start; keisler only pitches 4 times --- twice vs pittsburgh, twice vs the cubs. but man, those two starts vs the cubs stick out; you hate to see the cards throwing a bad pitcher two times against one of their chief rivals. but because of the way the off days fall, it's difficult to get keisler out of there. the only way i can figure it out (and i've ruled out anybody starting on short rest) would be the following: give keisler a couple of starts and see how he does. if it looks like he's trustworthy, go ahead and throw him vs the cubs; if not, then insert another replacement starter on april 19, in order to set up the rotation for optimal matchups. like so:

4/8 @hou
wells
4/9 @pgh
looper
4/10 @pgh
keisler
4/11 @pgh
wainwright
4/12
OFF
4/13 mil
reyes
4/14 mil
wells
4/15 mil
looper
4/16 pgh
wainwright
4/17 pgh
keisler
4/18 @sf
reyes
4/19 @sf
thompson
4/20 @chi
wells
4/21 @chi
looper
4/22 @chi
wainwright
4/23
OFF
4/24 cin
reyes
4/25 cin
thompson
4/26 cin
wells
4/27 chi
looper
4/28 chi
wainwright
4/29 chi
reyes
4/30 @mil
thompson
5/1 @mil
wells
5/2 @mil
looper
5/3
OFF
5/4 hou
wainwright
5/5 hou
reyes
5/6 hou
wells
5/7 col
looper
5/8 col
carpenter
5/9 col
wainwright
5/10
OFF

i used brad thompson as the 2d replacement starter in this example, but it could be anybody --- matt ginter, narveson, whoever you want. you still wind up with only five replacement-pitcher starts, but the replacement-level guy only pitches once against a strong contender (milwaukee on april 30); his other four starts come against the two weakest divisional teams (pittsburgh and cincinnati) and a so-so nl west team (giants). 14 of the 15 games against the cubs, astros, and brewers would be started by one of the top 4 starting pitchers. everybody gets plenty of rest --- most of the regular starters are pitching on 5 days' rest more often during this stretch than on the normal 4 days.

until more is known about carpenter's condition, they'll be flying in the dark vis-vis the rotation; it might be most sensible to simply go with the first option above and keep everybody on a normal cycle. tony could lose more than he gains by tinkering around and shuffling guys in and out of slots; it's still very early in the season to be playing matchups to the hilt.

as long as we're discussing replacement players: blake hawksworth made his triple A debut last night, and another key prospect (jaime garcia) debuted at double a. head over to erik's for the full prospect report.

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