Chris Carpenter must hate election years, because during the last three of them he has some sort of nerve issue that slows him down. The news of his injury is less than shocking, yet it’s still a bummer. Carpenter is 36, threw a zillion innings last year and has a bit of an injury history, putting it mildly. It has to be Roy Oswalt time, right? Well, maybe, maybe not. The Angels, who seem to have it in for us this off-season, now look to be the front-runner for Roy Oswalt’s services. And that means Lance Lynn looks to be the man. I remember back in my Future Redbirds heyday that when drafted in the supplemental round, fans were less than enthused by a player who smacked of “safeness”. His didn’t own a dominant offering nor was he the kind that could sell jeans. Lynn lived up to his billing until last year, when his fastball velocity ticked up a few notches and he ended the season impressive in relief. Perhaps he has some solid upside after all.
Assuming the worst and saying Carpenter is lost for the season, we can do a little back of the napkin quantifying of what his loss means in terms of wins. Most projections call for Carpenter to throw 200 innings and post a 3.40 FIP, good for about 4 WAR. Lynn, however, was slated for some late-inning relief. It’s hard to get a good projection for Lynn because most have him in a mixed role, so let’s just say that at best he’d pitch as well as Motte, albeit in something of a lower leverage role, making him good for 1.2 WAR. In order to replicate that as a starter, he’d have to throw a 4.40 FIP around 200 innings. It doesn’t seem unreasonable to imagine Lynn posting a 4.10 FIP over 200 innings, surpassing whatever value he could have offered in relief. Whatever value Lynn has as a starter over a reliever does become a bit of a wash however, when you consider the bullpen “chaining“. What that basically means is that a lesser pitcher will have to fill Lynn’s role of late inning, high leverage relief, and a pitcher who would normally get lower leverage innings will be thrust into more important innings, and so on. I could get into more at the risk of being really boring, but we’re talking about a few runs in this case, so I’ll spare the gory details.
What it all boils down to is that losing Carpenter is losing two wins, which is definitely costly in what is projected to be a tight race between the Cards, Brewers and Reds, who have their own problems with the recent loss of Ryan Madson. The reported ambivalence towards Roy Oswalt means the Cardinals must be banking on Carpenter being back for a meaningful part of the season, but unfortunately history seems to tell us that such optimism rarely seems to pay off. Yes, they could be fine. After all, they managed without Wainwright last year, but when someone like Oswalt is sitting around looking for a job and you have the means and potential payoff of signing him, I would have to think you pull the trigger if possible. It’s no knock on Lynn, who is a key piece of the present and future, it’s just that he’s no Carpenter or Oswalt. Few are.