Strikeouts. They are the flashiest of all possible mound outcomes for a pitcher.
While Greg Maddux once uttered, “Chicks dig the long ball,” had he spoke about pitchers, he easily could have uttered the phrase “Chicks dig punchouts.”
Yet by themselves, strikeouts don’t always tell the complete story.
Take the Mets’ Oliver Perez. This season, the veteran lefty has fanned almost one opposing batter per inning – 58 in 60 1/3 frames. However during that same time, Perez has issued a whopping 55 free passes to enemy hitters.
So while Perez’ strikeout rate is impressive, his strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.05 is actually quite mediocre. Not surprisingly, Ollie is carrying a losing record and an ERA right at six.
Closer to home, St. Louis Cardinals right-hander Chris Carpenter is the anti-Ollie as he won his seventh straight game and 12th of the season Wednesday night. The 34-year-old went seven strong innings against Cincinnati, the sixth consecutive start he’s gone at least that long. Amazingly, the two runs allowed actually increased his ERA from 2.26 to 2.27.
Getting ahead in the count was key as Carp threw first-pitch strikes to 22 of 29 hitters. His control was impeccable as he fanned ten opposing batters for the second time this season but did not issue one walk. Carpenter has not given out more than two free passes in any of his 19 starts this season and had one or none in an impressive 13 of them.
Putting that all together from a 2009 season perspective, he has 97 strikeouts and just 19 walks in 130 2/3 innings, for a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 5.11.
How does that stack up, you might ask?
It would be a franchise record-breaker. Not just since 1954, but forever.
In the entire storied history of the St. Louis Cardinals, no pitcher has ever delivered a full-season strikeout-to-walk ratio of over five. In fact, only seven times in history has a Cardinals pitcher accrued a ratio of at least four.
This isn’t new territory for the 2005 Cy Young Award winner. Of the seven complete seasons of a four-or-greater ratio in club annals, Carpenter had three of them.
In comparison, Hall of Famer Bob Gibson managed just one – a 4.32 ratio during his signature season of 1968. The best year from Dizzy Dean, generally acknowledged as the second-greatest Cardinals pitcher ever, was “just” 3.68. Control artist extraordinaire Bob Tewksbury (1993 and 1992) had the best two full seasons currently on the club’s books, at 4.85 and 4.55 respectively.
Still, Carpenter has competition on his own roster. Not to be outdone, if the season ended today, Carpenter’s teammate Joel Pinero’s strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.47 would also rank fourth-highest in franchise history.
Strikeout-to-walk ratio, season, St. Louis Cardinals history (minimum 100 innings pitched)
Across Major League Baseball this season, Carpenter ranks fourth behind former Cardinal and current Arizona ace Dan Haren (6.65), Toronto’s Roy Halladay (6.57) and Javier Vazquez of Atlanta (5.34). Carp’s current season would rank 84th-best all-time in MLB.
Speaking of all-time, the franchise career leader in strikeout-to-walk ratio is none other than Carpenter at 4.21. In fact, he is the only pitcher in team history to exceed 3.62, the mark of second-best Lee Smith.
Most impressively, the current Cardinals are represented by four in the top 15 all-time with Pineiro at sixth (3.03), Ryan Franklin at 14th (2.57) and Adam Wainwright at number 15 (2.47). In addition, Kyle Lohse ranks 26th in team history (2.28).
Strikeout-to-walk ratio, career, St. Louis Cardinals history (minimum 200 innings pitched)
While many have suggested the Cardinals’ urgency to win should be driven by a desire to not waste Albert Pujols’ prime years, “What about Carpenter,” I ask?
At age 34, Carp may not have too many more peak performance seasons remaining. Let’s fully enjoy them while we can.
(Thanks as always to Tom Orf for the tables.)