Can Carpenter Be This Year’s Kendrick?

Phillies righthander Drew Carpenter, who turns 23 in May, has impressed pitching coach Rich Dubee so far in spring training.

"I know it was just a spring-training game, but he made a lot of quality pitches," Dubee said enthusiastically. "He commanded his stuff as well as most of the guys we’ve got in this camp."
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Carpenter struck out the side – Jason Giambi, Jorge Posada and Wilson Betemit – in the seventh. In the ninth, he worked out of a no-out, bases-loaded jam with two strikeouts and a pop-out.

"He’s got great presence," Dubee said. "I loved that ninth inning. I’m not saying I want to see guys struggle, but at the same time you like to see how they will react when their backs are against the wall. He really responded."

Carpenter mentions in the story that he hopes to have a similar rise to the majors that fellow Phillies righthander Kyle Kendrick had last year, when Kendrick threw 81 1/3 Double-A innings before a promotion to the majors, where he had a 3.87 ERA in 121 innings. Phillies officials have also commented this off-season that Carpenter may be ready for an ascension similar to Kendrick’s.

Kendrick had a fine season last year, partly because he allowed just 25 walks. However, he also only struck out 3.6 batters per nine innings. The odds of a pitcher turning into this year’s Kyle Kendrick are stacked against any pitcher. The odds of even Kendrick himself repeating last year’s performance aren’t favorable.

Since 1980, there have been 92 instances—an average of about three to four pitchers per season—when a pitcher has had a season in which he averaged fewer than 4.0 strikeouts per nine innings, pitched at least 150 innings and maintained a league-average ERA (as measured by ERA+, which is the league average ERA divided by a pitcher’s park-adjusted ERA, making an ERA+ of 100 league average).

It’s even harder for a pitcher to duplicate that success.

There have been 11 pitchers in that time frame who have met those requirements in back-to-back seasons. Kendrick doesn’t meet these requirements himself, having pitched just 121 innings, but setting the bar a bit higher for innings shows us the pitchers who have been at least average for a full or near-full season. Y1 is the pitcher’s ERA+ the first year of meeting the requirements, Y2 is Year 2 and Y3 is Year 3 for those who met the requirements for three consecutive seasons.

Aaron Cook 27-28 2006-07 116 116  
Carlos Silva 25-26 2004-05 112 129  
Ricky Bones 25-26 1994-95 147 107  
Bob Tewksbury 30-31 1991-92 113 157  
Allan Anderson 24-25 1988-89 166 110  
Ron Romanick 23-24 1984-85 106 101  
Rick Honeycutt 29-30 1983-84 129 124  
Geoff Zahn 36-38 1982-84 108 121 128
Ken Forsch 33-35 1980-92 103 126 104
Larry Gurra 32-34 1980-82 137 132 101
Rick Langford 28-29 1980-81 115 116  

Righthanders Aaron Cook and Carlos Silva are the only two to meet the requirements in the last 10 years, and both make up for their lack of strikeouts with sinkers that keep the ball on the ground and in the park. Kendrick, who had an ERA+ of 119 last year, has an average fastball, a low-80s slider that he uses as his out pitch, and a low-80s changeup.

Carpenter, the No. 9 prospect in the Phillies system, is a fly ball pitcher with an average fastball that he commands well, a plus slider and some mechanical issues. He pitched especially well toward the end of last season with high Class A Clearwater, posting a 32-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 38 innings in August and September. He finished the year with a 3.20 ERA in 163 innings with 116 strikeouts (6.4 per nine innings) and 56 walks (2.9 per nine). Kendrick had similar numbers with Clearwater in 2006, when he averaged 5.5 strikeouts per nine and 2.6 walks per nine with a 3.53 ERA in 130 innings.

So there are several similarities between Kendrick and Carpenter. But it’s won’t be easy for Carpenter to duplicate Kendrick’s 2007 season.

It won’t even be easy for Kendrick to duplicate his 2007 season.