News came down earlier in the week that Chris Carpenter was shutting down for the season before ever really starting up. It was one injury too far for the aging pitcher and things didn't feel right. It's hard to argue the scenario when you read quotes like this:
“The phone call went like, ‘I can’t throw. Every time I try, it just gets worse. The numbness and the ‘zingers’ are getting more frequent.’
“Then,” said [Cardinals General Manager John] Mozeliak, “the hand is discolored and he knows that’s not normal. Given what he’s been through from a medical standpoint, he just felt this injury is not going away.”
It's remarkable that Carpenter reached this point after making an unexpected come back in 2012 to pitch 30.2 innings between the regular season and the post-season. It makes you wonder what kind of hell he put his arm through just 6 months ago.
In the days following the announcement, there was a fair bit of eulogizing done here and elsewhere. There's also been the forward looking articles about the new prospects and Adam Wainwright's increased role within the club. What's been seemingly missed in this conversation or, at minimum, undercovered is the conversation of just how good of a pitcher Chris Carpenter was.
Carpenter's arrival in St. Louis was an odd set of circumstances. The Toronto Blue Jays essentially gave up on the 27 year old and his continuing battles with injuries. Carpenter signed with the Cardinals in 2003 but would be out for the entire season. It wasn't until 2004 -- what a magical year that was -- that Carpenter would join the rotation and start to rack up innings.
Whether it was Dave Duncan's tutelage or an auspiciously timed return to health, Carpenter set about pitching like an ace early on. The Cardinals would pick up lots of value when Carpenter was healthy but it came in spurts. 15 fWAR from 2004-2006. 14 fWAR from 2009-2011. 2007, 2008 and 2012 would add just 38.1 innings to Chris Carpenter's career as most of those seasons were lost to injury.
When Carpenter was good he was really good. When he was hurt, he just wasn't there. Despite the injuries cutting into his career, Carpenter emerges with a rather illustrious 9 year career in St. Louis. He occupies some spots on Cardinal leader boards as well: third in strikeouts (1085), second in WPA (17.2) and tenth in bWAR (26.4). Basically, Chris Carpenter is one of the best pitchers to have pitched for the Cardinals for as long as he did. He crossed the 1000 inning threshold in 2010 and the 1000 strikeouts recorded in 2011. Memorializing his 2005 campaign when he pitched 241 innings (including 7 complete games with a 2.90 FIP) is that season's Cy Young award.
Given the fact that the Cardinals were an excellent team with Chris Carpenter, it's worth noting that he also threw 108 innings in the postseason across 5 years. In 2011, he started three games in the World Series against the Rangers. He pitched the Cardinals past Roy Halladay in an epic game 5 duel. Chris Carpenter was great during the regular season but he had some indelible post season moments.
The Cardinals may miss Chris Carpenter's presence in the clubhouse but my bet is they miss his presence on the mound more. It's important to have good people in the clubhouse; leaders to set the examples and help the team find a degree of cohesion. It's more important to have a great pitcher on the mound once the game starts. For all of the wonders that epitomized Chris Carpenter behind the scenes, we shouldn't overlook what he did every fifth day.
There's no need to adorn the fact that Chris Carpenter was simply a great pitcher for the St. Louis Cardinals.