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 baseball-reference.com, 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.