Chris Carpenter – The Ultimate Professional Athlete


Fans and sports writers who talk about Albert Pujols being the face of the Cardinals franchise might be forgetting about this guy.

Yes, Chris Carpenter represents “Play like a Cardinal” as much as any other athlete that has worn the Birds on the Bat uniform.  Ever.

There’s no denying that Albert Pujols is one of the best in the game at the moment, and certainly worthy of a “best ever” debate.    I saw in a recent blog that his WAR (Wins above Replacement) curve is nearly indistinguishable from that of Willie Mays.   We’re not here to talk about Albert, so lets talk about Chris Carpenter.

Old School Performance

The St. Louis Cardinals took a chance on the once promising right hander when they signed him as a free agent in 2002.  They knew it would be a while before he was able to pitch again, and they were willing to wait.  As it turned out, the wait was well worth it.

In the following seven season, Chris Carpenter’s record is a mind-boggling 84-33 (a .718 winning percentage) .   His ERA is under 3 runs a game (2.98).   He’s also thrown nearly 1,100 innings averaging over 7 strikeouts per game, to go with only 2 walks – that’s a 3.71 K/BB ratio in case you didn’t have a calculator handy.    When healthy, he has never won fewer than 15 games and his WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) floats between 1.055 and 1.179.

To put those numbers in some sort of historical perspective, consider that over the same age period (29-35), Bob Gibson’s record was 135-73  (a .679 winning percentage).   Gibson does win the ERA battle at 2.52, largely due to his historic 1968 season.   Gibson was good for 7.7 K/IP and 2.5 BB/IP.   Because of the era and all those complete games, Gibby also threw for nearly twice the number of innings.

When healthy, Chris Carpenter is not just a little like Bob Gibson.  He is nearly identical to the Hall of Famer.

Ultimate Teammate

In 2009, Adam Wainwright was struggling to win games.   Thanks to some generous run support, Wainwright was winning the win-loss battle, but it was not pretty.  While recovering from an injury, Carpenter noticed that Wainwright’s arm slot was too high, which kept his slider and fastball well in the hitting zone.   Around that time, Wainwright’s ERA was 4.35.   From May 16 to the end of the season, the big right-hander’s ERA was a miniscule 2.25.

And this was not the first time the master has given advice to his apprentice.  If you want to read more about the relationship between Carpenter and Wainwright, check out this article from USA Today.

But wait, there’s more.

One of the first reports from spring training was about Chris Carpenter helping pitching prospect Shelby Miller, who was apparently tipping his pitches.  As we learned last week from former Cardinals pitcher Jerry Reuss, prospects don’t always get that kind of attention.

My favorite Chris Carpenter moment came on August 9, 2010.   In the first of a three game series against division rivals, the Cincinnati Reds, Brendan Ryan has an equipment malfunction that delays the start of the home half of the first inning.  It was later learned that he couldn’t find his glove and had run out onto the field with Aaron Miles’ mitt.  After some searching in the dugout, Ryan’s glove was found and that caused another delay as he swapped gloves again.   Understandably, this irritated Carpenter as he was ready to throw his first pitch of the game.

Displaying tremendous professionalism, Carpenter waited until the end of the inning to confront Ryan about the situation.  He also chose to lecture the young shortstop in the hallway behind the dugout, not in plain sight.   Unfortunately, the hallway wasn’t as private as Carpenter had thought and the entire exchange was caught on video.  Once the exchange, which was rather one directional, was finished, no more was said about the situation.   As it should be between professionals of any vocation.

No No Trade Clause

Like Albert Pujols, Chris Carpenter is a 5-10 player, meaning that he has played for the Cardinals for 5 continuous season plus he has at least 10 years of major league service.  As such, he can reject any trade, even though his current contract may or may not have any no-trade provisions or limitations.  Albert Pujols has publicly stated that he would reject any mid-season trade, should the Cardinals struggle and decide to trade the 3 time MVP away as part of a rebuilding program.

When asked if he would veto a trade in the same situation, Carpenter said bluntly that he would not use his 5-10 status to block such a deal.  Naturally, some in the rather fragile Cardinals Nation who are still recovering from Albertgeddon and the recent news about Adam Wainwright immediately jumped to the conclusion that the front office was abandoning all hope on the 2011 season and shopping the former Cy Young winner.   Instead, we should all be applauding Chris Carpenter for the professionalism that he continues to show.

Chris Carpenter is already one of my 10 favorite Cardinal players.   Because of what he did today, Carpenter has moved up a couple of places on that list.

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5 Responses to Chris Carpenter – The Ultimate Professional Athlete

  1. Thank you for the post on Carpenter especially the comparison with Bob Gibson. This season will be trying for the Cardinals and their fans but Carpenter will be a constant for them.

    • Thanks Francisco. It certainly looks like we’re going to need a good and durable Chris Carpenter this year. I still think the Cardinals have enough talent to win the division, as long as there are no more “big” injury surprises. It will take everybody bringing their A game, but we’ve seen that before.

      Should be an interesting (and entertaining) first half of the season.

  2. William says:

    Carpenter and Halladay are so alike in their professionalism and in the seriousness of their craft. It’s remarkable that they both came from the same organization.

    • It is amazing how similar the two are. In the first draft of the blog, I actually made that comparison. I revised it with the Gibson reference to put it more of a Cardinals historical perspective. Plus, I heard a Gibson interview not long ago when he said that Carpenter reminded him of a young Gibson.

      But you are right about the parallels between Halladay and Carpenter. Carpenter mentioned Mel Queen the other day. I wonder if that is the common element (the Blue Jay’s pitching coach). Man, he was a reach back and throw it as hard as you can type back in the day.

  3. With traveling today, missed the story on Carpenter and the trade clause (and didn’t see it just now on the STLToday app).

    I think he will make an incredible pitching coach some day. We’ve seen that already with what he’s done for teammates and, in Shelby Miller’s case (and as Carp himself was quoted as saying in one of the articles), with the guy who could easily take his job. I also liked reading what he was saying to McClellan on the day of Waino’s injury. He’s been through so much, and he seems to have such great wisdom and an obvious passion for the game. You know his desire to succeed all the more will be there this season.

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