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Top 60 All-Time Greatest Blue Jays: #51 Chris Carpenter

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Pitcher Chris Carpenter #26 of the Toronto Blue Jays
22 Jul 2001: Pitcher Chris Carpenter #26 of the Toronto Blue Jays throwing the ball during the game against the New York Yankees at the Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York. The Yankees defeated the Blue Jays 7-3.Mandatory Credit: Ezra O. Shaw /Allsport

Christopher John Carpenter | RHP | 1997 - 2002

Chris Carpenter was born April 27, 1975, in Exeter, New Hampshire. The Blue Jays picked him in the 1st round of the 1993 draft, with the 15th overall pick, out of Trinity High School in Manchester, NH. Alex Rodriguez was the number one pick that year. The Jays had 4 first-round picks, the other three (Matt Farner, Jeremy Lee, and Mark Lukasiewicz) didn’t amount to much.

Chris had a quick run up our minor league system, starting in Medicine Hat, where he went 6-3 with a 2.76 ERA in 15 starts (I wish we still had the Rookie League team in Medicine Hat. It is just a 2.5-hour drive from me). Baseball America had him as a top 100 prospect for 3 years, from 1995 to 1997.

In 1997 Carpenter was called up in May to fill Robert Person’s spot in the rotation when Person was out with an injury. Chris made three bad starts, going 0-2 with a 12.71 ERA, and was sent back down again. He back up in late July, when Juan Guzman went down with an injury. He finished 3-7, with a 5.09 ERA. We had a pretty good rotation back then, with Roger Clemens, Pat Hentgen, Woody Williams, and Juan Guzman.

In 1998 Chris split time between the rotation and the bullpen, starting in the rotation then moving to the pen until Guzman was traded to the Orioles, at the end of July. Chris finished 12-7 with a 4.37 ERA in 33 games, with 24 starts.

We had a few changes to the rotation in 1999, Clemens was traded to the Yankees, with David Wells coming back and Woody Williams (and others) were traded to the Padres for Joey Hamilton (not one of GM Gord Ash’s better moves). Carpenter was a full-time starter but went on the DL a couple of times. He finished 9-8 with a 4.38 ERA in 24 starts. Fangraphs has 1998 and 1999 tied for his best seasons with the Jays, with a 3.2 WAR both years.

2000 wasn’t a good year for Chris. It started off ok, he was 6-5 with a 4.45 ERA in mid-June, but a 1-4, 11.75 ERA July got him put into the bullpen. He finished 9-8 with a 6.26 ERA, in 34 games, 27 starts. He had trouble keeping the ball in the park, giving up 30 home runs, and he walked 4.3 per 9 while only getting 5.8 strikeouts. He was never a strikeout pitcher, at least for the Jays, but it is tough to be a winner with a 1.36 SO/BB ratio.

In 2001 Chris had a full, healthy season in the rotation. He made 34 starts, and went 11-11 with a 4.09 ERA. He pitched 215.2 innings and struck out 157, both his high watermarks for the Jays. He started the season well, going 7-4 with a 3.67 ERA up until the end of June but had 7 straight losses through July and most of August and his ERA climbed to 4.59. He bounced back with a 4 game win streak to end the season.

Carpenter was our opening day starter in 2002, but that was about the end of the good news for him that season. He went on the DL after that first start, came off to make a start on April 21st, and went back on the DL. Chris then had a run of 11 starts from the end of June to mid-August. In August he went on the DL one more time and had to have major shoulder surgery to repair a labrum tear. In total, he made 13 starts, went 4-5 with a 5.28 ERA in 73.1 innings.

As he was going to miss the whole 2003 season, the Jays just offered Chris a minor league contract. He decided to become a free agent instead and signed with the Cardinals. It was an understandable decision on the part of the Blue Jays, Chris hadn’t lived up to his ‘top prospect’ status yet and there was no way of knowing if he would come back strong after surgery. Labrum surgery is still an iffy thing for a pitcher. The Cardinals, on the other hand, were willing to take a gamble on him, paying him near the major league minimum for 2003. The Jays took the opposite approach with Dustin McGowan, maybe learning from Carpenter’s example.

It worked out for the Cardinals; Chris has won 95 games for them and helped them to win 2 World Series. He won 2 games in their series win over Texas, to get win the World Series, in 2011. He’s won a Cy Young and finished second and third in the voting in other seasons as Cardinal. He missed most of 2007 and 2008 after Tommy John surgery but was been a rotation leader for them every other season. Chris cut down his walk rate with the Cards. As a Jay he walked 3.4/9, as a Cardinal, he has only walked 2.0/9, while striking out an extra batter per 9 with the Cards. Getting to pitch to opponent pitchers likely explains the extra k’s.

Chris is a big guy, 6’6”, 230. He throws a two-seam and four-seam fastball that can hit mid-90’s, as well as a curve, change, and slider. Woodman663 did a scouting report on him here. Fangraphs has him at a 12.5 WAR for his time with the Jays.

Chris talked at Roy Halladay’s funeral and did the voice over for Doc’s video at his Hall of Fame induction and won my eternal admiration for saying such nice things about him. He and Halladay pitched against each other in game 5 of the 2011 NLDS. The Cardinals won 1-0, with Carpenter throwing a complete game 3 hitter and Doc pitching 8 innings, allowing just the 1 run. The game sent the Cardinals to the NLCS against the Brewers. The two went on vacation together in Brazil that off-season. Carpenter said:

“I finally broke the wall that winter when we were fishing in Brazil,” Carpenter remembers. “I finally told him, ‘I haven’t brought this up before. But I want to remind you that I got a hit off you that night. That’s right. I got a hit off you.”

Carpenter says he set Halladay up by leading him into thinking he wasn’t going to swing, got a fastball and singled. They laughed, shared a beer. The bond was tauter than one deciding game, one shining moment. “When you are as close as we were,” says Carpenter, “you pick the right moment to needle someone, and to share the laughter.

And there is this story on Carpenter’s Wikipedia:

Carpenter and Roy Halladay were fishing in the Amazon River with fellow pitcher B. J. Ryan and professional sport fisherman Skeet Reese when they encountered a wounded man who was stranded. The man was attempting to catch fish to sell as aquarium pets when an anaconda attacked him. The snake bit him, but the victim was able to free himself. The snake attempted to wrap itself around the man, but instead wrapped itself around the motor of his 14-foot canoe, flipped it over and broke the motor off. When the pitchers discovered him, they flipped the boat back over, recovered his belongings and towed him home.

Chris Carpenter’s place among Blue Jay pitching leaders:

Wins: 11th, 49.

Innings pitched: 10th, 870.2.

Strikeouts: 12th, 612.

Games Started: 10th, 135.