Wednesday, October 25, 2006

MLB: What Sets St. Louis Ace Chris Carpenter Apart

By Dustin Hockensmith

You see the numbers, and you see the accolades. Chris Carpenter has gone from average starting pitcher in Toronto to a perennial Cy Young contender in St. Louis. I honestly hadn't taken as many opportunities to watch Carpenter as often as I should or could have this year, but he is about as impressive as it gets. He's got all that it takes – the size, repertoire, command and deception – to dominate games, and he can use all of those tools on any given night.

Carpenter's repertoire is so impressive because he has a variety of pitches he can throw to both left-handed and right-handed hitters. This aspect of the game is more mainstream when talking about batters, but it is just as important for a pitcher. In fact, I think it is what defines the career of a young pitcher and what makes a story like Carpenter's possible. His experience has helped him hone in on a sinking fastball, a slider, curve ball and change-up that allow him to attack hitters of any kind.

Command is obviously a key factor in a pitcher's consistency, but that's not just about throwing strikes. Command is about being able to work both sides of the plate and the upper and lower parts of the strike zone with a combination of your pitches. When you can establish the command of any pitch in any part of the strike zone, you can set up your other pitches or give yourself time to get a feel for them during a game. Carpenter does this very well, and you see it in his numbers.

But what has helped lift Carpenter into the upper echelon of starting pitchers, at least to me, is the deception in his delivery. A slow step back to begin his windup gives way to an accelerated release and finish that makes the ball get on top of hitters very quickly. But on top of that, his drive off the mound creates a downhill plane that enables him to effectively attack the bottom of the strike zone.

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