No, I’m not suggesting that MLB shorten the game to 7 innings. That would be plain silly, and it would leave less time for the consumption of ballpark food. If anything, I’m a proponent of having more baseball on a given night as opposed to less. No, I’m simply suggesting that the Cardinals could practically turn some games into 7 or even 6 innings affairs. How? Find a place to sit down, because what I’m about to suggest isn’t necessarily the first thought that comes to mind when you think of “bullpen options”.
Ask Chris Carpenter to return in 2012 as the closer. Seriously, why not consider moving Carpenter to the closer spot? Leave guys like Jason Motte and Kyle McClellan to lock down the 7th and 8th innings. Before you dismiss the idea, consider that exercising the team’s option on Carp costs the team $15M in 2012. Also consider the possibility that Carp is on a slow decline, and there is evidence from 2009 to 2010 to show it.
Carpenter’s 2009 -> 17-4, 2.24 era, 192 2/3 innings, 144 strikeouts, 38 BB, 3.79 SO/BB
Carpenter’s 2010 -> 16-9, 3.22 era, 235 innings, 179 strikeouts, 63 BB, 2.84 SO/BB
Opponents line in 2009 (750 PAs): .226/.272/.310/.581, 7 hr, BAbip .274, Total Bases 214
Opponents line in 2010 (969 PAs): .244/.302/.377/.680, 21 hr, BAbip .282, Total Bases 331
Ground ball to fly ball ratio in 2009: 1.26
Ground ball to fly ball ratio in 2010: 1.05
Percentage of fly balls that were hr in 2009 (GB/FB = 1.26): 3.4%
Percentage of fly balls that were hr in 2010 (GB/FB = 1.05): 6.7%
Number of 3-0 counts in 2009: 19
Number of 3-0 counts in 2010: 34
Carp will turn 36 shortly after the start of the 2011, and it will be difficult for him to entirely reverse the trend indicated by the numbers above. That’s not to say that he’ll give up 21 or more home runs, but he’s not likely to allow 7 or fewer, either. The real focus here, though, is on what to do with him in 2012.
His contract includes a team option for $15M or a $1M buyout. If his numbers decline, then it’s really hard to justify picking up that expensive option. How about restructuring his contract to pay him like a closer? Carp takes a pay cut, but he saves face, because he’s not playing for peanuts, and he’ll still have a position of significant responsibility. He just has to be sold on the idea. That’s where LaRussa comes into play. He’s been down this road before, and it worked out okay with some guy named Dennis Eckersley. I’ll even give him some ideas on how to sell the idea.
Consider this line: .218/.287/.323/.609 with 32 strikeouts, a 1.54 era and a 2.91 strikeout to walk ratio. That’s what Carpenter did in the 1st inning of games in 2010. In the 2nd inning, his era ballooned to 4.63.
He’s devastating in the 1st inning. He’s not a one-pitch guy, and batters can’t sit on a particular “out” pitch. The Cardinals could pay him like a closer, and he could potentially extend his career. As a bonus, TLR wouldn’t have to worry about long save situations. It’s not like Carp would tire after 15 pitches. He also wouldn’t have to hold back anything in “reserve” for the later innings.
What say you Cardinal Nation? Would you want Tony to turn the ball over to Carp in the 9th inning of a close game?
TIDBIT: Carpenter’s 32 strikeouts in the 1st inning is his highest strikeout total for any inning.
BITS OF TID: If Carp could come anywhere close to matching that 1st inning line I referenced above in the final inning of games, he’d be a real force. Consider a 1.73 ERA and opponents’ batting line against of .163/.215/.294/.509 with 57 strikeouts in 62.1 innings. That was the line for the Rays closer Rafael Soriano who just signed a 3 yr / $35M deal with the Yankees. If Carp would/could make the transition, you can imagine what kind of value he might provide while also adding to his St. Louis Cardinals legacy.