How Wainwright and Carpenter Can Be Cardinals' Dominant 1-2 Punch Again

Will Grapperhaus@@WillGrapperhausContributor IIIJanuary 16, 2013

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 21: Chris Carpenter #29 of the St. Louis Cardinals throws to the Chicago Cubs in their MLB game at Wrigley Field on September 21, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Cubs defeated the Cardinals 5-4. (Photo by John Gress/Getty Images)
John Gress/Getty Images

When it comes to competitive sports, the word luck has been taboo for nearly a century.

Luck is often the last refuge for fans of a losing team, for players who feel they did everything right yet came up short anyway, or for beaten managers wishing to wax philosophic in a postgame news conference.

Bad weather conditions leading to a slippery outfield?

"Bad Luck."

An inconsistent strike zone that favors one starting pitcher over another?

"Guess it was the other team's lucky day."

A triple-hit, broken-bat double in the NLCS?

Yes, you see where we're heading with this.

On the flip side of luck, we have cold-hard facts, statistics and advanced sabermetric analysis. Luck has been replaced with things like WAR, rate-stats and FIP.

Old-timers are muttering, "Wally Pipp?" No, FIP.

So its a bit paradoxical that advanced baseball metrics have actually proven the existence of luck.

Professional athletes are well-oiled machines. Their career rate stats will arc, peak and decline like everyone else. But their style of play will demonstrate rate stats unique to them, as well.

Ground-ball pitcher versus a strikeout, fly-ball pitcher. High-average line-drive hitter who sometimes hits homers versus the classic slugger who can swing for the fences every time. And just how valuable is a guy who hits 150 singles, but nothing else?

And when a player's seasonal rates deviate even slightly from their career baseline, we must ask, is it luck, decline, or a little of both?

In the case of Cardinals co-aces Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter, it could be all three.

First, the good news—Waino es Bueno.

Adam Wainwright
2009 19 8 2.63 3.11 3.32 5.7
2010 20 11 2.42 2.86 3.02 6.1
2012 14 13 3.94 3.10 3.23 4.4

If you look at Wainwright's baseball card stats of wins, losses and ERA alone, he looks like he was one of the worst pitchers on the team in 2012.

Why then did he lead all St. Louis pitchers with a 4.4 WAR rating?

Because he was easily the best pitcher on the staff, which we've explained already in previous articles to the chagrin of many Kyle Lohse fans. 

His rate stats—Fielding Independent ERA as well as xFIP, which adds fly-ball rate to the equation—were virtually identical to his 19-win campaign in 2009.

What was working against him? In a word, luck. Or for Negative Nancies, Wainwright just wasn't clutch enough in 2012.

His runners stranded rate of 67.8 percent was the lowest of his career, which contributed to his elevated ERA. He essentially gave up hits at the worst times. By contrast, his LOB% in his two Cy Young-finalist seasons was 80.4 percent and 79.1 percent. That's quite a contrast.

Wainwright will be good for 16 to 19 wins in 2013 if he simply maintains his performance level and his tough luck falls back to his normal career levels.

When we turn to Chris Carpenter, though, the waters get a little murky.

Chris Carpenter
2010 16 9 3.22 3.69 3.70 3.7
2011 11 9 3.45 3.06 3.31 5.0
2012 0 2 3.71 4.09 4.47 0.2

First of all, you want to talk about bad luck? 

A cursory comparison between Carpenter's 2010 and 2011 seasons would lead nine out of 10 fans to say his 2010 season was far better. And oh how wrong they would be.

Carpenter's FIP and xFIP were absolutely sparkling in 2011. In 14 no-decisions over 95 of the 237.1 innings he pitched in the regular season that year, he had a 3.41 ERA and 1.242 WHIP.

In his 11 wins, Carpenter was essentially unbeatable (1.44 ERA, 1.08 WHIP) which shows how good he had to be to squeeze out a win that year.

So its no shock his 5.0 WAR easily beat his 16-win, 3.7 WAR campaign the year before. Wins and losses are pretty misleading. Just ask Felix Hernandez.

So what can we expect from Carpenter in 2013?

Bill James predicts a 15-win season from Carpenter, which sounds optimistic, but if the big righty has demonstrated anything over his career its that if he's healthy, he will produce quality numbers.

As good, metrically, as Carpenter was in 2011, it shouldn't be hard for him to at least approach his 2010 production, which was far closer to his career averages.

Wainwright's second season beyond Tommy John surgery should be a 20-win season for the de facto ace and he should once again garner some Cy Young consideration.

Carpenter, if healthy all year, will be the tough warrior on the mound he has always been and should win at least 16 games—especially considering the Cardinals still have an excellent offense and the best bullpen they've had out of the gate in years.

Both righties are awfully similar in style and repertoire so the keys for both are also similar.

They each need to establish pin-point control of the fastball, spotting it low in the strike zone and on and off the corners of each side of the plate.

More importantly, they need to have their sharp 12-to-6 curve working for them. When either Carp or Wainwright lose the edge off their curve, they are both far easier to hit.

Carpenter has a good cutter which is a tough pitch on righties and lefties, but Wainwright has been using more as well, most likely with guidance from Carpenter.

If the two tall aces can combine for at least thirty-six wins in 2013, the Cards will be in first-place contention all year.


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