Any time Carpenter comes out and lets loose with his fragile arm in a losing effort it feels like one that got away, but sometimes they're just hit, repeatedly, where they ain't. Or in this case, hit where they is not in a position to quite make a play on a ball, and then deflected where they ain't.
It's hard to stomach when games turn on moments like that. I guess most 3-2 games do—even a three run homer is, to some degree, one bad pitch—but the botched double play, especially when it's combined with the wrong-headed pitcher deflection, fills me with a very particular kind of dread.
That said, this was yet another remarkable outing from Carpenter. At this point in the season he's thrown 66 innings, which is itself remarkable. He's got a 1.78 ERA, which is great. But I think the most emblematic number, of all his great ones, is this: he's averaging just under 12 pitches an inning. Four pitches per out. Even Joel Pineiro, who considers it a personal failure to get past 0-1 in either direction on any given hitter, averages 14 pitches an inning. The league average is up around 17.
There are pitchers who pitch with intensity; the sportswriter's favorite ace is the one who stomps and acts fiery, who intimidates. And there are other pitching "personalities" too; the pathetic fallacy works as well on people who don't talk and can't explain what they're doing as well as it does on trees and animals, and pitchers have been declared to work smugly, or calmly, and so on. To this closet of unsupported inferences I add my own: Carp pitches like somebody solving a Rubik's Cube for the thousandth time. He doesn't make mistakes, he doesn't get caught off guard, and he follows the pattern, and all the while he looks bored while he's doing it and unsurprised when it works out. When a hitter gets behind, and he usually does, and Carpenter puts him away, and he usually does, the pitch seems in hindsight to be the only logical choice. It's a marvel to watch.
It's amazing that he's pitching at all, after spending two years on duty as the team's official Symbol of What Might Have Been. Now I'm trying to appreciate that he's pitching amazingly.
I don't know who else has been watching Fangraphs's Skip Schumaker page for updates on his year-to-date defense, but an encouraging thing happened recently: for the first time all year, his UZR/150—a stat that shows defensive contribution as the runs saved (or not saved) per 150 games at the position—has pushed past the -20 mark. It's spent much of the year at -30, then dipped to -25 around the end of May. Now: -19.9. Small victories.
I don't mean to get ahead of myself. By UZR/150 Skip is still the worst defender to spend significant time at second since Jeff Kent (-18.3 in 2007) and Jose Vidro (-23.6 in 2006) at the very end of their careers. But combined with his recent offensive hot streak it means that, for the first time all year, Fangraphs considers him exactly as good as a replacement-level second baseman (hereafter Jarrett Hoffpauir.) 0.0 WAR; a clean slate.
Where does that number have to be for this experiment to be considered a success at the end of the season? In some loose ways it already is; for one thing, the other team's announcers, always a useful barometer of what baseball at large thinks about Your Team, have almost forgotten about him entirely out there. Rick Ankiel moving to the outfield? Still interesting. Khalil Greene's anxiety? Captivating. A guy with no pro experience moving to the infield? I'm not even sure they know it happened. So Schumaker is at least not so embarrassing out there as to arouse their suspicions.
But since we are concerned more with the Cardinals' success than their sense of propriety, the fair thing to ask, whenever you're ready to ask it—at the end of the season? Now?—is whether the Cardinals could have done better. The minor leagues are a pretty solid no, now that Schumaker is trending past replacement level. Hoffpauir seems like a useful hitter but is apparently a defensive non-entity, and top positional prospect Daniel Descalso, presently raking at AA Springfield, could not have been predicted then or relied upon now.
Adam Kennedy, the Cardinals' other option, is currently hoping nobody in the Oakland organization has found the splits feature on Baseball-Reference. After that big May—
Cardinals Fan A: Have you seen Adam Kennedy's line so far? Hoo boy.
Cardinals Fan B [painfully cheerful]: Yeah, it's hilarious, ha, ha.
Cardinals Fan A: I know, right? Ha, ha.
Cardinals Fan C: Hey, have you guys seen—
[Cardinals Fans A + B leave the room quietly, firmly]
—Kennedy's tailed off severely, but at this moment in time he is still hitting .298/.368/.474. But the hilarious thing, ha, ha, is that his defense has been awful this year, at -14.0 per 150 games—nearly as bad as Skip's. Right now Kennedy's provided one win above a replacement player, but he's doing it so uncharacteristically that it's a hard win to trust.
For me the main thing Schumaker will compete with, at the end of the season, is his own value as a trade chit. Turning outfield depth into a middle infielder is something baseball teams have done before, but it's rarely done so literally. But since I can't know what he would have brought in trade, my small-area hope is that Schumaker passes at least one of the more conventionally bad offense-first second basemen, a Dan Uggla or an Ian Kinsler, on the UZR anti-leaderboard before the year is out. If he does that, I'll consider the experiment a success.
As Future Redbirds noticed, the Cardinals appear to have closed in on Wagner Mateo, who is one of the top two or three Latin American talents in this year's non-draft. He's the 16 year-old center fielder, if you haven't yet kept them straight; this month-old Goold piece has a video and a somewhat reserved scouting report. (From the two videos I've seen his swing is nice and clean but won't exactly make you go all Roy Hobbs or Toe Nash on the kid.)
Meanwhile, in today's P-D, Goold has a paragraph targeted at allaying the fears of everyone who read about Luhnow's early draft hemming and hawing and have looked at the international signings with a degree of hesitation ever since:
Mozeliak said what the Cardinals spend in bonuses for international players is "completely independent" of how much they can spend to sign first-round pick Shelby Miller. The Cardinals selected the Texas high school righthander with the 19th pick, and though negotiations have been slow to develop, the Cardinals expect to pay over slot to sign the fireballer.
If that's true the whole thing's unreservedly great news; we may not know much about Wagner Mateo, but this is, if you will, like getting another first round pick without having to sign and then offer arbitration to Russ Springer—it really is. He seems more distant, because he's playing in an academy and he's so young, but given the worthlessness of high school statistics it's just as easy to scout Wagner Mateo as it is your local all-state shortstop. And if the international spending is separate from the draft bonuses, it's better to spend it on one player with first round talent and a matching price tag than it is to spread it out among fringier types.