Monday, August 5, 2013

How I Learned to Love Carp

Relievers are a funny breed.  Sometimes, a failed minor league starter/swingman like Jonny Venters or Luis Avilan suddenly becomes one of the most dependable arms in a bullpen.  Other times, a formerly good major league pitcher like Chris Hammond becomes an uberly good performer.  Or a waiver claim turns into Eric O'Flaherty.  You never know where an arm may come from.

When the Cardinals selected David Carpenter with their 12th round selection in 2006, they probably felt he had a chance to be a solid reliever for them.  A West Virginia Mountaineer (but we won't hold that against him), Carpenter was immediately placed in the bullpen.  However, injuries ruined his first year-and-a-half and he didn't make his debut until 2008 with 15 games at rookie-bal.  Over his next 101 games and 32 saves, Carpenter climbed to high-A ball, but the contending Cardinals sent him to the Houston organizaton in a waiver-deal on August 19th, 2010 for 3B Pedro Feliz. After Carpenter finished 2010 with the Astros high-A ball and became a bit of a prospect with a solid 2011, including a 19 game run at AAA where he allowed zero runs in 19 innings while recording nine saves.  He finished the year with Houston, making his debut on June 30th and logging 34 games.  He struggled with his controlled, gave up over a hit an inning, but on the bright side, he also struck out over a batter an inning.  He did break camp with the Astros in 2012, but bad pitching kept him on a shuffle between Houston and Oklahoma City.  Overall, in 30 games with the 'Stros, he had a 1.92 WHIP and a FIP approaching 5.00.

On July 20th, he would be involved in his second trade, a ten-person trade that sent, among others, J.A. Happ and Brandon Lyon to the Blue Jays with Carpenter and Francisco Cordero and Ben Francisco to the Astros.  Carpenter spent most of the next two months with Las Vegas and did strike out 19 in 17.2 ING.  His three outings with the Blue Jays were quite forgetful.  Of the 20 batters he faced, 11 reached base.

Shortly after the season, Carpenter was traded a third time, this time as part of the rare manager-gets-traded deal as he went with new Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell to the Red Sox for Mike Aviles.  Boston designated him for assignment a month later and on November 30th, the Braves selected him off waivers.  It was a low-key, early offseason move that a good deal of Braves fans missed or just forgot about.  D-Carp looked unlikely to make the team in 2013 so he appeared to be Gwinnett filler and made six appearances with the G-Braves before injuries brought Carpenter to the majors for good in early May.

San Francisco roughed him up in his first outing and he didn't have a perfect outing until his seventh game, a perfect inning against he Pirates with two K's.  Since then, he has been occasionally bad (2 runs, 1 inning outings agains the Mets and Phillies stand out - as does a 2 run, 3 ING performance against the White Sox).  Overall, Carpenter has pitched his best ball since 2010.  His 10.1 K/9 rate and 3.29 BB/9 rate have been instrumental in him pitching better, as his 2.75 FIP shows.

What has made him so much better?  I asked my friend Bryce what he thinks and Bryce gave me this scouting report based on his initial observations.
If he was showing more depth on the slider earlier this season, it could be a change he's made in the grip or delivery of the pitch. In old clips I saw (I think I saw a clip from the 'Stros and a clip from the Jays?) the slider he showed in those clips looked like it had a lot of up and down movement. It was kind of slurvy. The one I saw in his Atlanta clip (and I'd have to see him pitch again to confirm) the slider had more sweeping action. A more true slider...He started it on the outer half and it just took off. Hitter didn't have a chance once he committed
From the number side, Bryce seems to be supported.  His slider has always been a below average pitch as far as wSL is concerned.  It's now above average at 1.0.  That doesn't sound like much, but he only throws it 24% of the time.  Not coincidentally, if his slider and control are better, his 94 mph fastball becomes tougher on hitters.  Since he throws his fastball 68% of the time, or 2-out-of-every-third pitch thrown, it is now much more valuable at 6.6 wFA.  There's no difference in the rates he uses these pitches nor velocity, just his movement and control.

Without knowing it, at some point, when I saw Carpenter coming in during a close game, I no longer cringed at the thought.  Suddenly, I was comfortable with it.  Confident, even.  A day after throwing an inning with 3 K's for his first "hold" of the year, he retired all he faced in Saturday's game that went to extras.  I don't value the hold statistic, but it shows that Fredi Gonzalez is also becoming more comfortable with adding Carpenter to his stable of guys who are okay to pitch with the lead.  A bullpen that was essentially Avilan, Jordan Walden, and Craig Kimbrel a few weeks ago has gotten a welcome shot in the arm with the acquisition of Scott Downs and the emergence of D-Carp.

Now, we just need a shirt that says "Fear the Carp."  Get on it, Braves.

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