A Look at Chris Carpenter's 2011 Pitch Selection

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 28: Chris Carpenter #29 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches in the second inning during Game Seven of the MLB World Series against the Texas Rangers at Busch Stadium on October 28, 2011 in St Louis, Missouri. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

On Sunday, the St. Louis Cardinals announced that the radiating pain that had sidelined 2011 staff ace Chris Carpenter for the past week was attributable to a bulging cervical disc. As the St. Louis Post-Dispatch headline states, this diagnosis is "a big relief" for the organization and Cardinals fans. Even though the Cardinals are prudently taking the step of preparing a pitcher as a contingency starter,* the condition is not supposed to cause Carpenter to miss a large amount of time and the Cardinals expect him to be ready to start on Opening Day against the Marlins.

*Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch reports this morning that Lance Lynn will be stretched out as the emergency starting pitcher.

Cardinals fans are well aware of how integral the righty was to the Cardinals in 2011. He anchored the Wainwright-less rotation, throwing a league-leading 237.1 innings, striking out 7.24 per nine innings, walking 2.09 batters per nine innings, and posting a 3.45 ERA to go with a 3.06 FIP. His excellent performance equated to a 5.0-fWAR season. These stats tell us the results of the 4,103 pitches thrown by Carpenter last season. Today, I would like to take a look at the process that led to those results.

The good folks at The Hardball Times and Brooks Baseball went through and classified every MLB pitch, refining their Pitch F/X data with human-eye confirmation of the pitch classification. In conjunction with this newly refined pitch data, they have created wonderful player cards rich in information on big-league pitchers. Using the information available on Carpenter's player card at Brooks Baseball, I thought we might dissect how the club's workhorse ace went about deploying his arsenal of pitches last season given the handedness of the opposing batter and the count.

In 2011, right-handed batters logged 528 plate appearances (PA) against Carpenter and left-handed hitters totaled 468 PA against him. Even though Carpenter's SO/BB ratio against righties was 4.04 as compared to 2.89 against lefties, righties (.268/.313/.360/.673) hit slightly better against him than lefties (.259/.304/.361/.665). As one might expect, despite similar levels of effectiveness regardless of handedness, Carpenter used a different approach when facing right-handed as opposed to left-handed batsmen.

According to the classifications by Brooks Baseball, Carpenter threw the following pitches in 2011: four-seam fastball, sinker, cutter, curveball, and change-up. The following graph shows the overall percentage share for each pitch as well as the percentage share for each pitch against left-handed and right-handed batters.

OVERALL

SPLIT

4-SEAM

SINKER

CUTTER

CURVE

CHANGE

RHB

18%

33%

31%

19%

0.00%

LHB

16%

37%

21%

22%

4%

OVERALL

17%

34%

26%

21%

2%

A true Duncan disciple, Carpenter's most-thrown 2011 pitch by a wide margin was his sinker. He relies on it even more often against left-handed hitters than right-handed hitters. Against righties, Carpenter is nearly as likely to throw a cutter as a sinker. In contrast, Carpenter is more likely to throw his sinker, change-up, and--somewhat surprisingly--curveball against lefties.

The "overall" graph gives us a nice baseline for looking at how Carpenter deploys his arsenal of pitches depending on the count. The next graphs look at the pitches Carpenter throws against a batter based on handedness. They show how often Carpenter throws each of his pitches to batters based on handedness and then subdivided by whether he is even in the count, ahead in the count, and behind in the count. For this chart, I included both 2-2 and 3-2 as being "even" in the count. Also shown is the percentage share for each pitch over all counts.

OVERALL VS. RHB

COUNT

4-SEAM

SINKER

CUTTER

CURVE

CHANGE

EVEN

17.71%

33.95%

31.64%

16.61%

0.09%

AHEAD

17.46%

17.89%

32.39%

32.11%

0.14%

BEHIND

17.18%

53.59%

26.41%

2.56%

0.26%

OVERALL

17.67%

32.54%

30.68%

18.98%

0.14%

OVERALL VS. LHB

COUNT

4-SEAM

SINKER

CUTTER

CURVE

CHANGE

EVEN

24.59%

49.18%

19.67%

6.56%

0.00%

AHEAD

18.29%

17.10%

20.87%

39.96%

3.78%

BEHIND

10.82%

60.24%

21.65%

2.82%

4.47%

OVERALL

15.66%

36.67%

21.38%

22.38%

3.92%


Carpenter typically throws his sinker when even in the count. He will also lean on his sinker when behind in the count, with 53.59% of his pitches to right-handed hitters and a whopping 60.24% to lefties when trailing in the count being sinkers. If Carpenter is ahead in the count against left-handed batters, his favorite pitch by far is the curve (39.96%). When on top against a righty, he threw his curve and cutter about 32% of the time.

The following graphs are organized by the handedness of the opposing batter and the count. They further help to flesh out when Carpenter is likely to throw a given pitch. The first set show Carpenter's pitch selection when facing right-handed batters (RHB).

EVEN COUNT VS. RHB

COUNT

4-SEAM

SINKER

CUTTER

CURVE

CHANGE

0-0

18%

37%

30%

15%

0%

1-1

15%

33%

28%

24%

0%

2-2

21%

21%

40%

17%

1%

3-2

22%

41%

36%

1%

0%



AHEAD VS. RHB

COUNT

4-SEAM

SINKER

CUTTER

CURVE

CHANGE

0-1

17%

24%

28%

31%

0%

0-2

20%

10%

34%

36%

0%

1-2

16%

14%

38%

32%

0%



BEHIND VS. RHB

COUNT

4-SEAM

SINKER

CUTTER

CURVE

CHANGE

1-0

19%

50%

27%

4%

0%

2-0

17%

59%

24%

0%

0%

3-0

36%

43%

21%

0%

0%

2-1

12%

58%

28%

2%

0%

3-1

28%

55%

10%

7%

0%

Most interesting to me is how much Carpenter favors the sinker and cutter against right-handed hitters. When Carpenter is even in the count, he is most likely to throw one of these two pitches. If he is behind in the count, Carpenter by far favors the sinker with the cutter his next-most-favored pitch. When ahead against a righty, Carpenter deploys his cutter and curve. He has good reason for doing so. Carpenter's cutter has a 16.43% whiff rate against right-handers and his curve isn't far behind, generating a swing-and-miss 15.69% of the time.

The following graphs show the percentage share for each pitch by count when Carpenter faces a left-handed batter (LHB).

EVEN COUNT VS. LHB

COUNT

4-SEAM

SINKER

CUTTER

CURVE

CHANGE

0-0

16%

40%

20%

22%

2%

1-1

16%

24%

22%

27%

11%

2-2

16%

24%

31%

26%

3%

3-2

24%

48%

19%

6%

2%



AHEAD VS. LHB

COUNT

4-SEAM

SINKER

CUTTER

CURVE

CHANGE

0-1

12%

20%

25%

35%

8%

0-2

19%

16%

17%

47%

1%

1-2

27%

14%

17%

43%

0%


BEHIND VS. LHB

COUNT

4-SEAM

SINKER

CUTTER

CURVE

CHANGE

1-0

11%

59%

21%

4%

5%

2-0

8%

72%

15%

4%

1%

3-0

23%

63%

10%

3%

0%

2-1

8%

53%

31%

0%

7%

3-1

16%

76%

7%

0%

2%

What stands out most to my eye is the maroon swath that represents the sinker when Carpenter is behind in the count. He is even more likely to throw it in those most hitter-friendly of counts, 2-0 (72%) and 3-1 (76%). With a 3.57% whiff rate from lefties, Carpenter's sinker rarely induces a swing-and-miss, but it does induce a grounder 12.86% of the time he throws the pitch. It suggests a philosophy of, "When in trouble, throw a sinker and hope for a groundout." Another interesting tendency of Carpenter's is to throw the curveball when ahead against left-handed hitters; in particular, in two-strike counts. Carpenter induced a swinging strike 9.79% of the time with his curve against lefties whereas his cutter whiff rate was 17.31% last year. This makes one wonder if we'll see the cutter used more often against left-handers in 2012.

Carpenter's reliance on a sinker makes him a shining example of Duncanism. However, his evolution as a pitcher has seen him branch out beyond that pitch. Carpenter's development of a cutter over the last few years has given him a brutal weapon that was deployed to great effect in 2011. It is a nasty complement to Uncle Charlie, a pitch Carpenter uses indiscriminately against left-handers and right-handers alike. Hopefully the Gods of Baseball smile on Carpenter's health and fans of the Cardinals are able to see him use this repertoire over 200+ innings in 2012.

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