Diamond Diaries

Cardinal baseball, from the girls

Maybe this is Chris Carpenter’s "problem"

There’s been a lot of talk about Chris Carpenter and the velocity of his fastball this season. This article, for example, appeared earlier in the week, and my first post on our blog was about it. His velocity also been mentioned on FS Midwest seemingly every time Carp starts, during the game by Dan McLaughlin and Al Hrabosky plus in the pre- and post-game. No one has an answer to what the “trouble” is – plus it’s laughable to consider his pitching an issue when at the moment he has a 5-1 record, a 2.80 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP.

So here’s an idea, a possible answer to the “problem” Chris Carpenter is having in 2010: maybe he’s just getting older.
Chris turned 35 on April 27. Compared to 47-year-old Jamie Moyer or 43-year-old Tim Wakefield, being 35 seems almost young. But Moyer and Wakefield – like Randy Johnson, who retired last year at 45, and Nolan Ryan, who retired at 46 – are exceptions when it comes to pitching. Take a look at the similar pitchers to Carp according to Baseball-reference.com:
  1. Freddy Garcia
  2. Jack McDowell
  3. Matt Morris
  4. Josh Beckett
  5. Alex Fernandez
  6. Carl Erskine
  7. John Lackey
  8. Shane Reynolds
  9. Tom Browning
  10. Brad Penny
Of the list, six are currently retired. And here’s the ages at which they last played in the major leagues: McDowell, 33; Morris, 33; Fernandez, 30; Erskine, 32; Reynolds, 36; and Browning, 35. So, with still pitching extremely well this season at 35, Carp is ahead of many of these similar pitchers.
Back to the velocity question – it stands to reason that the mile or 2 per hour slower he’s throwing this year is based on age too. Pitchers lose some velocity when they age, right? (Unless, like Moyer, they didn’t really have much to begin with.) It was simple to find Carp’s velocity this year compared to last (and to 2008) on Fangraphs.com. Yes, his fastball is down a bit: the average velocity is 91.7 mph, compared to 93.2 mph last year. (In 2008, when he threw only 205 total pitches, it was 92.1 mph.) I tried to find velocities from earlier seasons, though, especially after reading the quote from Lance Berkman where he said Chris used to throw 96 mph and was now at 92. Finding stats on that was tough. The closest I could find was this mention on a site talking about fantasy baseball from last year, which said “his fastball is popping the glove harder than it has in his previous six seasons (92.1 mph average).” The amount of baseball information available from so many sources on the Web is staggering, so maybe information on his velocity in 2004-2006 is out there to be found.

But, velocity aside, what really matters the most? Is it more important to have a Chris Carpenter who can reach 96 mph, or a 35-year-old who can do what it takes to continue to be successful and win? The results are what matter most to me. Old – relatively speaking – or not, Chris is more than getting the job done. Hopefully the sportswriters and broadcasters can focus on those results in the games ahead.

Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

2 responses to “Maybe this is Chris Carpenter’s "problem"

  1. Michael May 21, 2010 at 10:13 PM

    >I think fans who long for the good ol' days of Nolan Ryan, and every pitcher finishing what they started with a pitch count of 180, completely forget that most pitchers blew out their arms early. I'd start listing pitchers like Wayne Garland, Don Gullett, Catfish Hunter, Pete Vuckovich, Lamarr Hoyt, Alan Benes … but you get the picture.There's a reason why teams "baby" their pitchers and carefully monitor pitch counts — pitchers get old quickly. If a pitcher remains effective merely in his mid-30s, he's done something right. Or he's lucky.So back to Carp. We seem to forget he's had an injury-filled career, probably more than most. He missed half the 2002 season, all of 2003, all but one start in 2007, made only three starts in 2008, and we all cringed with every start he made in 2009. Fact is, we've gotten more out of Carp than we reasonably could expect.Yes, he's getting old, and the loss in velocity means we're near the end. It's an unpleasant reminder of our own mortality seeing players grow up, grow old, and hang it up.But what it most assuredly is NOT is "babying" pitchers arms. I'd rather Carp grow old at 35 yet still be capable of pitching well than Matty Mo, who grew up, grew old and left the stage at 33.I'll tell you what isn't pleasant: seeing Carp a crabby old man. Maybe he was just telling the Astros to get the hell off his lawn.

  2. Chris May 21, 2010 at 11:26 PM

    >I would say Carp has definitely had a more injury-filled career than most, with the surgeries to both his shoulder and his elbow. And I read that he does appreciate the fact he's able to pitch and really enjoys it (I'm paraphrasing) because he knows it could end at any time.But, yeah, maybe turning 35 is why he's gotten so mad out there twice this year. Just old-age crankiness.

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