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five more years

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before we get to the extension, a few updates you may or may not have heard:

  • vicente padilla will return to the rangers on a 3 yr / $33m deal, with an optional 4th
  • the padres are close to signing greg maddux --- could impact the zito ransom, as the pads have been considered leading buyers
  • also re the padres: they signed jose cruz jr, a cult favorite at VEB
  • espn's steve phillips says the cubs might get jason jennings for jacque jones and carlos marmol in a three-way trade involving pittsburgh. phillips is far from 100 pct reliable, but this one could be true --- hendry and dave littlefield have done a lot of bizness together
there's also the news that the cards have offered three-year deals to schmidt and batista (they had apparently offered padilla one as well before he came to terms with his old team) and have offers on the table to suppan and weaver. that's as much as i know from monday's swap-meet action.

so, the extension --- three add'l guaranteed years (2009 through 2011), with an option for a fourth (2012). as i noted at first blush yesterday, the deal comes in spite of the cards' aversion to committing more than three years of guaranteed money to any pitcher. there's a simple reason for that philosophy: all pitchers are injury risks. in locking up carp for five years (his age 32 through age 36 seasons), the cardinals accept the fairly high likelihood that, at some point during the life of the contract, carpenter will miss half a season with an injury; might even need a little surgery (on his shoulder, elbow, back, or whatever). that's not to criticize the deal or to judge it; it's just to state the facts. name a significant cardinal pitcher of this decade who hasn't needed some significant down time and/or a trip to the operating room. matt morris? surgery after the '04 season. woody williams? in and out of the rotation in '02, arm problems in '04. darryl kile? shoulder surgery between the 01 and 02 seasons. andy benes? knee trouble. izzy and mulder, you know about. carp himself has already had a significant outage since joining st louis, missing september 2004 and all of that year's postseason. it just comes with the territory; happens to the pedro martinezes and curt schillings and rocket clemenses and andy pettittes of the world, too. even bob gibson had two lengthy disablements ('67 and '73) while at the height of his powers.

the question isn't really whether or not carpenter can stay healthy for five years; he probably won't. the question is whether he's a good enough pitcher to justify the contract in spite of the probable down time --- and whether he'll remain that good over the life of the deal. which brings us to the other risk that teams run when they sign pitchers to half-decade deals: sometimes pitchers just lose it. i'm thinking here of guys like tim hudson and josh beckett, who both have sev'l years to go on contract extensions they signed before or during 2006 --- and which their teams now probably wish they hadn't offered. in a lesser sense, i'm thinking of guys like mike hampton, denny neagle, russ ortiz, and even darryl kile (vis-vis the rockies) --- ace-type pitchers who signed long, expensive free-agent deals and then almost immediately stopped pitching well. the injury risk is unavoidable, but what are the odds that carpenter will turn into a below-average pitcher at some point during the next five years?

not very high, thankfully. carp appears to have joined a rare class of pitchers, those who manage to escape the gravitational pull of the mean and perform at high altitude over the life of their careers. the list of pitchers who've matched his achievement of the last three seasons --- 50+ wins and a .700+ winning percentage --- is very short and very sweet. here are the only guys who've done it in the last 20 years:

pitcher years age record pct era cy?
clemens 88-90 25 62-25 .713 2.80 yes
santana 04-06 27 55-19 .743 2.75 yes
pedro 97-99 27 59-19 .756 2.29 yes
glavine 92-94 28 55-23 .705 3.24 no
carp 04-06 31 51-18 .739 3.10 yes
big unit 93-95 31 50-16 .758 2.97 yes
maddux 95-97 31 53-17 .757 2.21 yes
smoltz 96-98 31 56-23 .709 2.96 yes
welch 88-90 33 61-23 .726 3.21 yes
schilling 01-03 36 53-22 .707 3.07 no
wells 98-00 37 55-22 .714 4.16 no
moyer 01-03 40 54-21 .720 3.34 no

the "age" column represents the pitcher's age in the last year of the three-year run; the "cy" column asks whether or not the pitcher won a cy young award during the three years. these guys are listed in order of age, youngest to oldest.

i'm well aware that wins are a discredited statistical category these days, but the fluke factor vis-vis wins decreases in magnitude over time; a pitcher might have one lucky season with a high win total/pct, but to string together three such years in a row you actually have to be good. it will be argued that these guys just had the good fortune to pitch for good teams, hence racked up lots of wins; the counterargument would be that they helped make the teams good, were active agents rather than passive beneficiaries.

toss out whatever caveats you want to; it's still a pretty compelling list. aside from the old fogeys at the bottom of the list (ie, wells and moyer), these are all strong hall-of-fame candidates, if not sure-thing inductees --- elite pitchers year in, year out. discount bob welch if you want to; he won 211 games in his career and won 6 of his 9 postseason starts, which is not terrible. admittedly, most of these guys aren't particularly comparable to carpenter. clemens and pedro were both significantly younger at the time they achieved this feat, while schilling wells and moyer were much older; big unit's a physical freak, maddux a mental freak, glavine a soft-tossing lefty. (by the way, several of these pitchers --- clemens, pedro, big unit, glavine, maddux --- had multiple three-year segments of 50 games / .700 pct.) in my mind the most comparable pitcher here is smoltz, who remains an elite starting pitcher nearly a decade after the 3-year run cited here. let's just ask: how effective and durable were these guys in the five years after winning 50 in 3 seasons? table:

pitcher years age innings record era
clemens 89-93 30 1191 85-52 2.85
pedro 00-04 32 937 75-26 2.53
glavine 95-99 33 1137 79-41 3.13
big unit 96-00 36 1039 80-31 2.74
maddux 98-02 36 1152 89-44 2.88
smoltz 99-03 36 390 17-15 2.88
welch 91-94 37 579 35-37 4.80
schilling 04-08* 41 880* 70-35* 3.93
wells 01-05 42 900 66-36 4.06
moyer 04-08* 45 1000* 51-55* 4.59

since schilling and moyer have only had three "post" years so far, i just took their averages for won-loss and innings and extrapolated to five seasons; hence the asterisks. again, with the exception of the old guys, every one these pitchers remained ace-caliber for the next five years; some actually pitched better, although they didn't necessarily rack up wins with quite the same frequency. they also largely remained healthy --- all except smoltz, whose elbow problems (a recurrent nuisance) finally forced him to the bullpen for several years, where he became the game's best closer.

one other player who jumps to mind as a comp for carp is kevin brown. his career path has been very similar to carp's --- came up in the american league, at about the same age as carpenter, and was/is a similar type of pitcher: lotta strikeouts and groundballs. like carp, brown was pretty good but not dominant in his 20s (although he did have one luck-aided 20-win season), but blossomed at around age 30 into a cy young-caliber pitcher after coming to the national league. between 1996 and 1998 (his age 31 through 33 years), brown won 51 games with a .662 winning percentage and a 2.33 era, during which period he anchored two pennant-winning rotations, won a world championship, and had two top-3 cy young finishes. at the end of that run, brown signed the first $100 million contract ever awarded to a pitcher --- and one that is often held up as an object lesson in why you don't commit to pitchers for more than a few years. but that was a 7-year contract; if you only judge it by the first five years (ie, the same length as carp's extension), it's not quite so terrible. brown went 58-32 in those five years with a 2.83 era in 873 innings --- an average of 175 innings per year. he was completely healthy for three of the five seasons (nos. 1, 2, and 5); he made 30+ starts in each of those years, went a combined 45-24 with a 2.68 era, made two all-star teams and had two top-10 cy young finishes. his park-adjusted ERA+ for those years was north of 160. essentially, he had 3 full years akin to carpenter's 2006. however . . . . in 2001 and 2002 brown was on and off the DL, making only 29 starts combined in those years.

my point is that even kevin brown, whose contract is deemed a disaster, continued to pitch extremely well and delivered considerable value in the first five years of his deal; the tradeoff for that value was a couple of injury-plagued seasons. even one of those years was not a total loss --- brown went 10-4 with a 2.65 era in 2001 and was available in september; had the dodgers made the playoffs that year (they finished 6 games out), he would have been available as their game 1 starter. in any case, the injury risk is always there, with every pitcher; you can't avoid it. carpenter is the type of pitcher who is worth taking a bigger risk on, because when he's healthy he is almost certainly going to pitch like an ace --- now, and five years from now.

so put me down as a supporter; the cardinals are taking a sensible risk. a few other stray thoughts about the deal:

  • once again, the cardinals show themselves to be more willing to risk big dollars on a player who's already in the organization, than to risk same on a free agent from without. i chalk that up to character-related issues; the owners and management team won't risk a lot on a guy until they have gained trust in him and observed, first-hand, certain character traits in which they place great stock.
  • related to the above --- when the cards do have a surplus to spend, they'd prefer to spend it on their own guys; that's the team's de facto profit-sharing plan. some of the bonanza reaped from 8 home playoff games, plus god knows how much in direct sales / royalties related to world series memorabilia, has gone into the extensions for edmonds and carp, the two-year deal for spiezio, and the re-signing of bennett. only after dispersing those spoils is the team now looking outward, to plow whatever's left into the acquisition of new talent.
  • i support this deal but i can't say it particularly excites me; it doesn't make the team better this year. if we're really honest, we have to admit that the cards have done nothing so far to improve the team from its 83-win standard of 2006; the kennedy signing is essentially a lateral move, the wells signing is a low-risk crapshoot, and the rest of their moves are re-signings of the old gang. they can anticipate some internal gains, however, viz.: reyes and (hopefully) wainwright will have fulltime rotation slots, and they'll pitch much better than marquis and ponson/weaver last season. but the cards still need to bring in at least one reliable pitcher --- not even necessarily a high-impact one (although that'd be great). i'm still waiting to see who that guy (or those guys) is/are --- and i hope i'll be excited then.