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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Considering Carpenter’s Cy Case


The other day, we looked at Adam Wainwright’s 2009 season and through his results, his Cy Young Award candidacy, through the prism of the Triple Milestone categories. Had he not been let down by his teammates in his final start, Wainwright would have been just the ninth major league pitcher this decade to win at least 20 games, fan 200 or more and post an ERA of 3.00 or less. He achieved two of three, but finished with 19 wins.

Today, it is Chris Carpenter’s turn in the spotlight.

Carpenter backers note his league-leading 2.24 ERA, his efficiency, his won-loss percentage and like in Wainwright case, rue each no-decision he took due to lack of support from his St. Louis Cardinals teammates.

We are not going to look at standard wins and ERA in depth here, as I simply conclude that in the past, any number of pitchers have won the Cy Young Award with higher ERAs and fewer victories than Carpenter’s 17. Yet I should also note the leader in wins often has the advantage.

The most recent Cy-winning example was Arizona’s Brandon Webb, who logged just 16 wins and a relatively-hefty 3.10 ERA in 2006. That season, six NL pitchers tied with the most victories at 16, so no one topped Webb in that category. In terms of ERA, every single one of the 16 starting pitchers to have won the Cy Young Award in both leagues since Pedro Martinez in 2000 (1.74 ERA) had a higher ERA than Carp this season.

As former Cardinals pitcher Joe Magrane knows all too well, taking the ERA title does not necessarily translate to Cy Young Award votes without the “W’s” to accompany it. The current MLB Network broadcaster earned the NL ERA title in 1988 at 2.18, but his teammates gave him just five wins in 24 starts. He did not receive a single Cy Young Award mention, but did place fourth the next year with 18 victories in the books despite a higher ERA, 2.91. Magrane was the club’s last ERA champ prior to Carp, a gap of 21 years.

Due to an unfortunate oblique injury, Carp missed about five weeks of action earlier this season. As a result, he made just 28 starts compared to Wainwright’s 34.

To try to put Carp’s excellence into further perspective, Tom Orf pulled several lists.


The first is a measure of consistent stinginess in baserunners allowed. It denotes those MLB pitchers with enough innings to have qualified for the NL ERA title while allowing eight or fewer hits and two or fewer walks per nine innings over at least three different seasons since 1901.

Carpenter has become the 12th member of this elite group.

Pitchers with at least three seasons of eight or fewer hits and two or fewer walks per nine innings, career, MLB, 1901-2009

Pitcher From To Years HOF
Greg Maddux 1993 1998 5 yes*
Juan Marichal 1963 1971 5 yes
Addie Joss 1903 1907 5 yes
Pedro Martinez 1999 2005 4 yes*
Don Sutton 1971 1981 4 yes
Fergie Jenkins 1968 1974 4 yes
Chris Carpenter 2005 2009 3 TBD
Kevin Brown 1996 2000 3 no
Tom Seaver 1968 1973 3 yes
Jim Bunning 1964 1966 3 yes
Pete Alexander 1916 1919 3 yes
Cy Young 1901 1908 3 yes

* projected

Though it has nothing to do with Carpenter’s 2009 Cy Young Award candidacy, I added the Hall of Fame status of these 12. Assuming that Pedro and Greg Maddux are locks as I believe they are, 10 of the earlier 11 are either in the Hall or on their way.


The second table uses the same criteria for a single season, listing those Cardinals pitchers with enough innings to have qualified for the NL ERA title while allowing eight or fewer hits and two or fewer walks per nine innings during that season.

Pitchers with eight or fewer hits and two or fewer walks per nine innings, season, Cardinals, 1901-2009 (starting with most recent)

Player Year H/9 BB/9 Age Tm G GS CG SH W L W-L% IP H R ER BB SO ERA HR
Chris Carpenter 2009 7.29 1.78 34 STL 28 28 3 1 17 4 .810 192.2 156 49 48 38 144 2.24 7
Chris Carpenter 2006 7.88 1.75 31 STL 32 32 5 3 15 8 .652 221.2 194 81 76 43 184 3.09 21
Chris Carpenter 2005 7.60 1.90 30 STL 33 33 7 4 21 5 .808 241.2 204 82 76 51 213 2.83 18
John Tudor 1985 6.84 1.60 31 STL 36 36 14 10 21 8 .724 275 209 68 59 49 169 1.93 14
Bob Gibson 1968 5.85 1.83 32 STL 34 34 28 13 22 9 .710 304.2 198 49 38 62 268 1.12 11
Ray Washburn 1968 8.00 1.97 30 STL 31 30 8 4 14 8 .636 215 191 67 54 47 124 2.26 9
Harry Brecheen 1948 7.44 1.89 33 STL 33 30 21 7 20 7 .741 233.1 193 62 58 49 149 2.24 6
Kid Nichols 1904 7.61 1.42 34 STL 36 35 35 3 21 13 .618 317 268 97 71 50 134 2.02 3

Some important points to note in Carpenter’s own Cy Young context. Carpenter has allowed fewer hits and walks per nine this season than he did when he took home the Cy Young Award in 2005 and his winning percentage is almost identical.

In a slight negative, Carpenter is the only one among this group to have logged fewer than 200 innings during the season in question.


The final table is an attempt to really drill down on Carpenter’s efficiency this season.

Going back 54 years to the time the Cy Young Award was introduced, 1956, it shows the nine major league pitchers that equaled or bettered Carpenter’s 17 wins in 28 or fewer starts. At least 90 percent of these pitchers’ outings had to be starts to qualify.

It almost goes without saying that all pitchers with 29 or more starts are excluded by definition, leaving a subset consisting of less than full season starters.

Pitchers with 17 or more wins in 28 or fewer starts, season, MLB, 1956-2009

Rk Player Year W/GS % W GS Age Tm Lg G CG SHO GF L W-L% W-L Rk Cy
1 Jimmy Key 1994 0.680 17 25 33 NYY AL 25 1 0 0 4 0.810 T3 No
T2 Greg Maddux 1995 0.679 19 28 29 ATL NL 28 10 3 0 2 0.905 1 Yes*
T2 Sandy Koufax 1964 0.679 19 28 28 LAD NL 29 15 7 1 5 0.792 6 No
4 John Smoltz 1998 0.654 17 26 31 ATL NL 26 2 2 0 3 0.850 2 No
T5 Paul Abbott 2001 0.630 17 27 33 SEA AL 28 1 0 0 4 0.810 T3 No
T5 Jack Morris 1979 0.630 17 27 24 DET AL 27 9 1 0 7 0.708 T8 No
T7 Chris Carpenter 2009 0.607 17 28 34 STL NL 28 3 1 0 4 0.810 T3 TBD
T7 Al Leiter 1998 0.607 17 28 32 NYM NL 28 4 2 0 6 0.739 7 No
T7 Milt Pappas 1972 0.607 17 28 33 CHC NL 29 10 3 0 7 0.708 T8 No
T7 Vern Law 1965 0.607 17 28 35 PIT NL 29 13 4 1 9 0.654 10 No

* 144-game season

The above table is listed in order of efficiency percentage. In other words, the pitchers are ranked by the percentage of their starts in which they received a winning decision. Carpenter’s wins/games started mark of .607 is tied for seventh-best among this group.

The most efficient was the Yankees’ Jimmy Key, who won 17 of his 25 starts back in 1995. In terms of most wins in 28 or fewer starts, the co-leaders at 19 are a pair of Hall of Famers (soon) in Maddux (1995) and Sandy Koufax (1964). No one won more games with 28 or fewer starts that did those two.

In an oddity, 18 must be a haunted number as the other eight of 10 qualifiers each collected 17 wins in their big year, but not a one finished with 18.

Best won-loss percentage is owned by a pair of former Atlanta Braves. Maddux’ 1995 mark of .905 (19-2) is tops among this group. At .810 this season (17-4), Carpenter is tied for third, with now-teammate John Smoltz’ .850 in 1998 also ahead of him.

Unfortunately for Carpenter, the far right column ultimately passes judgment on how important, or should I suggest unimportant, win efficiency in 28 or fewer starts may be to voters. Only one of the previous nine pitchers was awarded the Cy Young following these seasons.

That winner was Maddux. However, even then there is an asterisk attached as the 1995 season was shortened to 144 games due to a strike. Maddux’ 19 victories actually paced the National League that year.

In other words, while these were some efficient pitchers, someone else’s bigger numbers almost always brought home the hardware.

It is impossible to close without acknowledging Carpenter’s place as the leader of the Cardinals pitching staff. Whether or not he takes home the 2009 Cy Young Award, his status was reinforced as he was given the team’s biggest start of the year, the NLDS game one assignment at Dodger Stadium Wednesday night.

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