ATLANTA, GA - MAY 28: Lance Lynn #31 of the St. Louis Cardinals pitches to the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on May 28, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Lance Lynn's strikeout-to-walk ratio hit three-to-one today, on the nose—60:20—which means that his first two months as a Major League starting pitcher see him leading baseball in wins, striking out 8.5 batters per nine innings, walking fewer than three, and generally doing a laudable, if not quite complete, Adam Wainwright impression. This would be more impressive to us, I think, if we didn't have Wainwright and Chris Carpenter—3.66 K:BB as a Cardinal—and Jaime Garcia—3.12 K:BB, low home run rate last year—doing it all at once.
The NL walk rate for starting pitchers in 2012 is 2.86, and the league K:BB ratio 2.51; in 2004, a fair-enough place to start their current run as the class of the National League and our introduction to Chris Carpenter, those numbers were 3.23 and 2.00. What's been remarkable about the Cardinals' starting pitching in that span is how many of their starter innings have gone toward pitchers above one or both of those numbers.
With the help of the Play Index, here are the starters who've thrown the most innings for the Cardinals since Carp's installation as paragon of the Dave Duncan ideal. (Lance Lynn, having just crossed 60 innings this year, has a ways to go.)
1. Chris Carpenter. (194 GS, 1331 IP; 95-42, 2.00 BB/9, 3.66 K:BB.) Pulling Chris Carpenter out of the junkyard is as important as any move Walt Jocketty made in the course of setting up those MV3 teams, short of drafting Albert Pujols after he finished securing the rights to Chris Duncan, Jimmy Journell, and Josh Pearce. And that's in spite of paying him for three years—2003, 2007, and 2008—in which he pitched a grand total of 21 innings.
Every so often—now, with Derek Lilliquist playing the Tim Cook role, and in the Dave Duncan era proper—we'd get excited over the chance to watch the Duncan Program at work on a pitcher with actual stuff. Usually it worked out somewhere between Kip Wells and Brad Penny.
But it was exciting because we'd watched it happen with Chris Carpenter. I never saw Carp pitch in Toronto, and to be honest I'm glad I didn't; when he arrived in St. Louis with a tailing mid-90s fastball, a cutter, a curveball, and lots of yelling it seemed immediately like the perfect melding of stuff to system. Watching him get thrower-not-pitchered in Toronto would be like watching Adam Dunn try out for the 1905 Tigers.
2. Adam Wainwright. (129 GS, 933 IP; 70-40, 2.57 BB/9, 2.91 K:BB.) Not a surprising No. 2.
Wainwright didn't have the benefit of doing the frustrating-younger routine in Canada, and as ridiculous as it seems now I remember, after his 16-walk April of 2007, having to plead with my Cardinal-fan friends—and, indirectly, Tony La Russa and company—to give him a few more turns through the rotation before they became convinced he was forever the Cardinals' closer-of-the-future.
The command got better in a hurry—after the All-Star Break he walked 2.7 batters per nine innings—but it was 2009's leap in strikeout rate that helped push his K:BB ratio into the Carpensphere. It's hard to know what to thank for that—his cutter-or-maybe-slider gained a mile-an-hour and got more cutter-y at the same time he began to throw his curveball more frequently. But it's this combination of pitching to contact and hitters not being good enough to oblige you that's made great Cardinal pitchers over this timespan.
3. Kyle Lohse. (113 GS, 660 IP; 44-33, 2.33 BB/9, 2.32 K:BB.)
If Carpenter and Wainwright are Duncan-plus, Lohse is what Duncan-ism looks like when you don't have a big strikeout pitch, or a shortstop-seeking sinker, or any of the other trappings that get us excited about the other prospects and suspects the Cardinals have taken on. He throws fastballs, he tries throwing them low in the zone, and sometimes when it seems like he might throw a fastball he throws something slower than that.
In the two years and change he's actually been healthy that's been good for an increasingly anachronistic strikeout rate and a walk rate Chris Carpenter wouldn't sneer at. (At least, one Chris Carpenter needn't sneer at.) Through two months this year he's struck out 36 and walked nine.
4. Jeff Suppan. (108 GS, 642 IP; 47-32, 3.11 BB/9, 1.63 K:BB.)
Then there's Jeff Suppan, whose three-year run with the Cardinals will baffle anthropologists 2000 years from now. All that changed when Suppan arrived in St. Louis was that his home run rate went from really high to just a little high. His strikeout rate was below average, his walk rate and BAbip was basically average, and he went 44-26 with an ERA+ of 109.
5. Jason Marquis. (97 GS, 603 IP; 42-37, 3.20 BB/9, 1.56 K:BB.)
At some point after the Anthony Reyes debacle—probably after all of us Anthony Reyes fans were tired of hating a guy whose methods had created a bunch of great, stable rotations—the notion of the Ideal Dave Duncan Pitcher seemed to slide quietly from guy-with-sinker to guy-who-throws-strikes-in-the-lower-half.
In any case, after his promising 2004 season Jason Marquis seemed to combine all the risks of the sinker—all the contact, all the balls in the dirt—with all the risks of being Eric Milton—his home run rate maxed out at 1.6 per nine innings.
He's about a full season's worth of innings from being overtaken in the Top 5 of this arbitrary time period by this guy, who'll make this post much more compelling:
6. Jaime Garcia. (71 GS, 438 IP; 30-19, 2.85 BB/9, 2.48 K:BB.)
That's a lot of stable innings hoovered up by a lot of pitchers who could be relied upon—if for literally nothing else—to keep the other team from taking a lot of bases for free, and occasionally to make up for it by striking more of them out. The Cardinals have, at times, had to rely on less-than-ideal outsiders—Jeff Weaver, Sidney Ponson, Kip Wells—and expensive hired guns—Mark Mulder, Edwin Jackson—but their ability to find and develop pitchers who have this one crucial skill has kept them out of a lot of trouble.
Here's the full table—missing Lance Lynn because I set the starters-only parameters a little too tight.