Holy effing crap! Chris Carpenter? Really? WTF?! This is amazing! Our starting pitching situation is totally awesome now! World Series here we come. Wait, what? The Cubs can’t trade a pitcher on the Cardinals to the Red Sox? When the hell did this become a rule? But…but…I want the real Chris effing Carpenter! Can we call Bud Selig, and ask him to change the rules on the player transactions just for this one time? We can’t? CRAP! This effing front office screws us every time! Fire Ben! Fire Larry! Fire Theo again, even though he doesn’t work for the team anymore! Hell, fire Ed the water cooler guy just because! I want heads to roll! Someone call Shaughnessy, and tell him to write a scathing article, STAT! No excuses! Grab your pitchforks and your torches, boys and girls! On to Fenway, we go!
Oh, I’m sorry. Was that a little too over the top? Perhaps it was. So who did we get instead?
Well, we get the other, less talented (albeit much younger) Chris Carpenter who was drafted in the third round of the 2008 amateur draft by the Chicago Cubs. According to a report I read, his velocity and stuff were good enough to go in the first round, but concerns about his injury history and durability caused him to fall to the third round. Among the issues he dealt with leading up to the draft were Tommy John surgery in 2005; a “clean up” procedure on his elbow in 2006; and “tired arm” that forced him to leave the Cape Cod League in 2007. It should be noted that he’s pitched through the last three-plus seasons, relatively free of injury.
Fast forward to today…
Carpenter was recently named the 13th best prospect in the Cubs farm system by Baseball America. While that’s a somewhat noteworthy distinction, we need to put that into perspective. Not all number 13 prospects are created equally. The Cubs farm system, though on the rebound, is still in pretty rough shape after being annually abused by Jim Hendry and his mediocre scouting team. It’s worth noting that e might not even rank in the top-20 or top-25 on a club (like the Rays or Blue Jays) that has a deep, productive farm system. Furthermore, 26 year old relief pitchers typically aren’t valued highly by prospect mavens on the account of their limited future value. I’m not saying these things to tear down Carpenter. He could very well be an important piece to the bullpen puzzle. Instead, I’m trying to put his value and potential into perspective.
Like most pitchers, Carpenter began his professional career as a starting pitcher. He had a great deal of success limiting runs in the lower levels of the minors, often relying on his natural talents. Upon reaching AA and AAA, he couldn’t rely quite as much on his stuff to get by, and command issues became a problem. As a result, he started allowing base runners at a much higher rate; thereby creating a potentially challenging environment for him as he progressed toward the majors. Prior to the 2011 season, the Cubs converted him to a reliever and moved him to the bullpen. Despite struggling in AAA to start the season, the Cubs promoted him to the big club in June. He made his major league debut on June 14th and pitched in 10 games, producing a 2.79 ERA in 9-2/3 innings. Despite an eye pleasing ERA, his FIP was 4.89, and he allowed 19 baserunners, including seven via the walk. Needless to say, his performance was somewhat of a mirage. He was demoted at the All-Star break, and finished his season in AAA.
According to Texas Leaguers, Carpenter primarily throws a four-seamer (FF) and slider (SL); although I’ve heard he also throws (or threw) a straight change (CH). His four-seamer lacks movement, but he gets a nice downward plane giving it a natural sink. He throws his FF for strikes (63.7%), induces a fair number of whiffs (8.9%), and has plus velocity that rides in the 95-97 MPH range. (Typical small sample warnings apply.) He throws a hard slider that gets a lot of movement and dips out of the zone. He doesn’t have the kind of command with his SL that you’d typically like to see, but when it’s on; it can be devestating. Serving as his primary out pitch, he generated whiffs 16.3% of the time in limited MLB action. While he didn’t throw his change-up at all during his major league stint, everything I’ve read has classified it as “fringy” or “mediocre” at best. He may not need to develop a reliable third pitch as a reliever (especially if his FF and SL improve), but a change-up would go a long way toward neutralizing left-handed hitters.
Since Carpenter has minor league options remaining, it’s possible (or perhaps, even likely) he’ll be stashed away at AAA Pawtucket to start the season. As a power arm out of the bullpen, he could prove to be an asset down the stretch in case injuries and/or performance by other arms in the bullpen pile up.
At least now, we can rest easy. Our long national nightmare is over. We no longer have to hear the Boston media whine about the compensation issue not being settled. Instead, they’ll complain about how long the process took to complete, and how little they got in return for Epstein. As far as I’m concerned it’s time close the book, turn out the lights, and start looking for the next crisis. It’s what they do best.