Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
September 13, 2005
BASEBALL: No Longer Just A Humble Carpenter

Yes, this is basically an edited version of the email Bill posted. And in my defense, I didn't see his email in my Yahoo! box until at least a half hour after he sent it . . .

Bill Simmons and I were having a discussion about how much precedent there is for Chris Carpenter having the sort of dominant, Cy Young-caliber season* he's had this year, given that Carpenter is 30 years old and has had a mediocre, injury-riddled career.

The obvious precedent is Mike Scott. Scott through age 29 had career bests of 10 wins, a 3.72 ERA, 154 innings, and 83 strikeouts. At age 30, Scott went 18-8 with a 3.29 ERA and 137 K, and the next year exploded on the league, going 18-10 with a 2.22 ERA in 275 IP, striking out 306 batters, throwing a division-clinching no-hitter, and winning the Cy Young Award.

So, who else is similar to Carpenter? Well, recall first that, like Scott, Carpenter built up to this with what looked, just a year ago, like a career year: he was 15-5 last year with a 3.46 ERA (121 ERA+) and 7.52 K/9. I don't think anyone predicted this season after he broke down (yet again) at the end of last year (me, I've been arguing for years that he should be converted to a closer due to his fragility). If you look at guys with big bust-out seasons in their 30s, there's a bunch of examples of less dramatic turnarounds by guys who were inconsistent or injury-prone in their 20s (Mike McCormick, Kevin Brown, Curt Schilling, Mike Cuellar, Bob Tewksbury), were previously relievers (Wilbur Wood, Hank Aguirre), pitched OK and got huge run support (Steve Stone) or just didn't get a shot in the majors until they were past 30 (Dazzy Vance, Spud Chandler, Sal Maglie). But I could think of four others who have a similar profile:

1. If you look at the top 10 most similar pitchers to Carpenter entering 2005 on, you'd find Jason Schmidt at #9. Schmidt's career-bests through age 29 were 13 wins, a 3.45 ERA, and 196 K, all set or matched at age 29 (his age-29 season is quite similar to Carpenter's). At 30, Schmidt went 17-5, 2.34 ERA, 208 K, pitching comparably to Carpenter, if winning a few less games and throwing a few less innings.

2. Bucky Walters, through age 29, had career bests of 15 wins (at age 29) and a 4.17 ERA. At 30, he went 27-11 with a 2.29 ERA and won the MVP Award; other than Scott, he's probably the most similar case.

3. John Tudor's career bests were 13 wins and a 3.27 ERA, until at age 31 he posted the 1.93 ERA in 275 innings and won 21 games. Getting out of Fenway and getting Ozzie behind him had a lot to do with that, of course.

4. Dave Stewart's career high in wins through age 29 was 10, and he'd never tossed 200 innings before. Stewart at 30 started the string of four consecutive 20-win seasons, although he didn't instantly dominate the league.

I could be forgetting someone - I didn't exactly do a systematic study - but I think those are the most dramatic examples.

* - I'll save for another day the Carpenter vs. Roger Clemens Cy Young debate. Suffice it to say that Carpenter's season is of legitimate Cy Young quality; the question is whether you can give the award to someone other than Clemens, given how well he's pitched.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:29 AM | Baseball 2005 | Comments (6) | TrackBack (0)

What about Steve Stone? He was pretty average through the 1970's, had a great year in 1980 and then I guess he blew his arm out and retired after the 1981 season.

Posted by: steve at September 13, 2005 11:48 AM

Oh wait -- you mentioned Steve Stone. Sorry.

Posted by: steve at September 13, 2005 11:50 AM

Carpenter was a pretty highly regarded young pitcher, who spent his 20's injured and inconsistent. I think that probably makes him more like the better guys on the list, rather than the Steve Stones who just had everything click for them one season.

Posted by: Jerry at September 13, 2005 12:02 PM

If you look at Dave Stewart's career stats, he was mostly a reliever until the A's picked him up. Aside from one year with Texas, he'd never started more than half the games he was in until he won 20 at 30.

Posted by: Tom at September 13, 2005 1:55 PM

From the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Carpenter's last start:

"22nd consecutive quality start, the longest streak in the National League since the Cardinals' Bob Gibson had 22 in 1968. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Carpenter is the first pitcher in the live-ball era (since 1920) to go undefeated in 16 starts while throwing at least seven innings and not allowing more than three runs in those games.

His ERA over his previous 18 games is 1.41, and the team has won 16 straight with Carpenter starting. He also was the first to win 20, to win 19, to win 18, and so on since 16."

Clemens is having a great year, no doubt about it. But Carpenter consistently pitches into the 8th and 9th. Clemens doesn't. I think the above numbers make the best case.

Posted by: Nick at September 13, 2005 3:33 PM

I'm guessing that Moyer is a notch below even if he's had longevity that Tudor didn't have.

Posted by: David Gerstman at September 13, 2005 9:09 PM
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