It is difficult to predict how Chris Carpenter would pitch, how healthy his arm would be, how many starts he would make, how sharp his curveball would be, and what tangible effect he would have on the Cardinals’ postseason chances should he return from the 60-day DL this season. On paper, Carpenter’s ERA, WHIP, and batting average against statistics in September may look remarkable for a starter who has missed the entire year with shoulder problems, or they may look like a below-replacement level mediocre fifth starter. The point is that no one knows what the Cards’ ace might give his team during its fight for a postseason birth. What you can be certain of is that Carpenter’s return from a season-long stint on the DL would be an intangible boost to the Cards. The fact is that intangibles make a difference in baseball, no matter how immeasurable or how subjective they may seem.
The intangible factor is why analysts have been obsessing over Alex Rodriguez’ returning “presence” to the Yankees lineup as much as his returning bat. It’s why, in a game dominated by individual matchups, chemistry is cited as a major reason why the Rays and Athletics have overachieved and why the Red Sox have underachieved. It is why Carpenter’s return would benefit the rest of the starting pitchers: no longer would Adam Wainwright and Kyle Lohse feel like they need to carry the rotation, Jake Westbrook could return to his role as a back-of-the-rotation starter with less pressure and lower expectations, and Jaime Garcia and Joe Kelly could certainly benefit from a bit of extra rest and veteran guidance, respectively. It is why his return would help the bullpen: if Carpenter could revert to his workhorse reputation, the bullpen wouldn’t be as overworked and would be better rested as the Cardinals approached the stretch run; Mike Matheny could afford to keep former starter Lance Lynn in the ‘pen, where he was effective last season rather than having to return him to the rotation where he struggled in his last few starts. It is why his return would help the offense: Cardinal hitters wouldn’t have to score as many runs to win games – I’m not saying that the offense would stop trying to hit, but with Matt Holliday’s back spasms and Rafael Furcal’s season-ending shoulder injury, the Cardinals’ lineup would be relieved that scoring only a few runs would still give the team a great chance to win.
Billy Beane’s “Moneyball” Oakland Athletics team that shocked the baseball world and made the playoffs in 2002 has turned baseball into a game of saber metrics. Since then, a player isn’t as much a player as he is a collection of statistics that yield the probability of future success. Guts, leadership, and the ever-intangible “presence” are never included in a boxscore, which is what makes Carpenter’s possible return to the Cardinals so difficult to quantify. While the stats might say that he isn’t the same pitcher as before, I believe that the return of a team’s ace who has significant postseason experience, including an NLDS-clinching gem against Roy Halladay in last season’s playoffs, can only help the Cards in their pursuit of October baseball and beyond.