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A Brief Remembrance of Chris Carpenter

Who was the most recent pitcher on the Cardinals team to pass the 1000 inning mark with the club?

The answer to that is, of course, Chris Carpenter or whoever writes the headlines around should have their head checked.  I've wanted to put together an article on Carpenter for a while. It's impossible to draw a comparison between any current player and Albert Pujols but Carpenter has stood head and shoulders above the pitching staff (prior to the emergence of Adam Wainwright) in much the same way as Albert has been the markedly best position player. They've been the faces of the franchise throughout much of the aughts. (I hope that someone comes up with a better name for the last decade than the aughts.)

As I prepared to pen Chris Carpenter's premature eulogy, I'm struck by how mundane his statistics are in Cardinal lore. That's not to dismiss his contributions but more to recognize my own inadequacies as a baseball historian. I've never had the drive to recall baseball players that hadn't been on the field in the last 5-10 years. Names like Bob Gibson, Bob Forsch, Dizzy Dean, Joaquin Andujar just never had much meaning to me. Turns out those guys were pretty good for the Cardinals.

Carpenter's been with the organization for 7 years now; just surpassing his 6 injury addled years in Toronto. During those 7 years, he's pitched just over 1000 innings or 1094.1 to be exact (plus another 58.1 innings in the postseason).  He's allowed less than a hit an inning and has struck out 3.71 batters for everyone he's walked.  During that time he's posted nearly identical FIP and xFIP of 3.40, which is pretty darn good. 

Carpenter's under contract for 2011 with a mildly expensive option for 2012.  He's in line to earn $15M both years and the option includes a $1M buyout.  The option would seem hugely dependent on his 2011 performance given his injury history -- both recent and further removed -- but the Cardinals have long built their brand on loyalty to (some) players so I'd be less than surprised to see the option picked up even if Carpenter has a marginal season or an extension worked out after the year is over.

Even having thrown 1094.1 innings, he's still 578 innings removed from the top 10 in Cardinal history.  (Admittedly, only three of those pitchers -- Gibson, Forsch and Larry Jackson -- are post-WWII era pitchers so there's an element of apples to oranges here.)  In the next two years, Carpenter has a legitimate chance to pass a familiar modern pitch and former staff ace in Matt Morris

Morris is a name I at least can remember watching pitch. He was never as dominant as Carpenter during his 1377.1 innings with the club over 8 years. His stuff not quite as potent and his control not quite as good, my memory of him is, unfortunately, tarnished by the twilight of his career as a Cardinal notably the last two years (2004-05) as his rates really started to falter and Carpenter began to realize his own potential on the club.

There's a parallel between Morris/Carpenter and Carpenter/Wainwright that we've watched over the last several years as well. Wainwright, with 874.1 Cardinal innings, is #48 on the list of career IP. The gap between he and Carpenter (#33) is close to the gap between Carpenter and Morris (#18) in terms of innings. The handoff of staff ace has already transferred in performance if not in the clubhouse. It might be prudent to begin my 1000 inning article on Wainwright now.

I can't make the sale for Carpenter as one of the all time pitching greats for the Cardinals. It's too storied a franchise with a long legacy of storied players. In the modern context, Carpenter has been as vital to the organization post-Gibson/Forsch as anyone. There's an argument to be made for Morris but that argument will get weaker over the next year or two. Even if Carpenter isn't a hall of fame inductee or a player that will have his number retired, he's still been the most important pitcher of the last decade.  I, for one, look forward to him inflating those stats in 2011.

The Cardinals Baseball-Reference leader boards can be found here.