- Chris Carpenter could have been one of the best had he remained healthy. He leads the first edition of the Hall of Fame "one-and-done" candidates.
The following article is part of my ongoing look at the candidates on the BBWAA 2018 Hall of Fame ballot. For a detailed introduction to this year's ballot, please see here. For an introduction to JAWS, see here.
Over the past month, I’ve written at length about the 14 holdover candidates and six newcomers on the 2018 BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot. That still leaves other 13 first-time candidates whose stays on the ballot are likely to be short, as they won’t receive even the 5% of the vote necessary to retain eligibility. That’s no great injustice, given that with one exception, their JAWS are at least 20 points below the standards at their positions. All the same, these players' careers are worth another look before they head into the sunset. Some were Hall of Fame-caliber talents whose bodies couldn’t hold together for long enough to make a serious bid for Cooperstown. Others were late-bloomers for whom reaching the 10-year minimum required to appear on the ballot was a triumph unto itself. Many of them will be most fondly remembered as part of championship teams.
My annual project would not be complete without including them. This is the 15th year I’ve evaluated candidates using JAWS (which didn’t acquire its catchy name until a little over a year in), and I’ve never let one go by. For this year’s group, I've split the 13 into three installments, two for pitchers and one for position players.
|Pitcher||Career WAR||Peak WAR||JAWS||Wins||Losses||Saves||ERA||ERA+|
|Avg. HOF SP||73.9||50.3||62.1|
|Avg. HOF RP||40.6||28.2||34.4|
A lanky, 6' 6" righty who played a vital part on three St. Louis pennant winners and two world champions and won a Cy Young award as well, Chris Carpenter had seasons where he ranked among the game's best pitchers. Unfortunately, he couldn't stay healthy, but he might be the only pitcher who battled back from labrum surgery, Tommy John surgery and surgery to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome (to say nothing of the bone spurs and multiple nerve injuries he also endured). All told, he spent roughly 1,100 days on the disabled list, about one for every two regular season innings he threw in a career spanning from 1997–2012.
A first round pick by the Blue Jays out of a Manchester, N.H. high school in 1993, Carpenter debuted on May 12, 1997 and spent parts of six seasons (1997–2002) with Toronto, three of which were solidly above-average and three not so much. Shoulder tendinitis and then a SLAP tear derailed him in 2002 and cost him all of ’03, not to mention his spot within Toronto's organization.
Picked up by the Cardinals, the 29-year-old Carpenter became one of Dave Duncan's many success stories, as the great pitching coach transformed him into a sinkerballer who could pitch to both sides of the plate. He went 15–5 with a 3.46 ERA and 3.3 WAR in 2004, but missed the Cardinals' run to the World Series due to a biceps nerve injury. He rebounded to make the NL All-Star team and go 21-5 with a 2.83 ERA, 213 strikeouts and 5.8 WAR in '05, beating out Dontrelle Willis and Roger Clemens for the NL Cy Young. Nearly as good in 2006, he made the All-Star team again and went 3-1 with a 2.78 ERA in five postseason turns, capped by eight shutout innings in Game 3 of the World Series against the Tigers. The Cardinals won in five.
After making the team's Opening Day start in 2007, Carpenter lost the rest of that season and all but four appearances in ’08 to a pair of elbow surgeries two and a half months apart—first for bone spurs and then for Tommy John surgery—and then a shoulder problem that culminated with ulnar nerve transposition surgery. Miraculously, he returned in 2009 with an NL-best 2.24 ERA, finishing a very close second to Tim Lincecum in the NL Cy Young race. Strong, workhorse seasons in 2010 and '11 culminated in another outstanding postseason run in the latter year; Carpenter went 4–0 with a 3.25 ERA in six starts, including a three-hit shutout of the Phillies in Game 5 of the Division Series and six innings of two-run ball on three days’ rest in Game 7 of the World Series against the Rangers.
Between a bulging disc in his neck and further nerve problems in his shoulder, Carpenter began the 2012 season on the sidelines. In late June, he was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, and three weeks later, he underwent surgery, which included the removal of a rib. Though presumed out for the season, he threw a simulated game less than seven weeks later, and after returning to make three late September starts, he was included in the team's postseason rotation. He pitched five shutout innings in Game 3 of the Division Series against the Nationals, but scuffled in two NLCS starts against the Giants. Though under contract for 2013, he spent the entire season on the DL due to another shoulder problem, finally retiring in October.
Among a wave of Cuban players who defected in the mid-1990s were a pair of half-brothers, Livan and Orlando Hernandez, who were the sons of longtime Cuban pitcher and position player Arnaldo Hernandez (the original “El Duque”); a third ballplaying son, Arnaldo Jr., died of a cerebral hemorrhage at age 30. Livan, who
who had a different mother than the other two, starred for his country in the 1992 and '93 World Junior Championships and in Serie Nacional before defecting in September ’95 during a team trip to Mexico. By 1997, he was a postseason hero for the upstart world champion Marlins. In all, he spent 17 seasons in the majors, making two All-Star teams but serving primarily as a mid-to-back-rotation innings eater—one who appeared to take the job description literally, given his listed weight of 245 pounds—while pitching for 10 different teams (counting the Expos separately from the Nationals, for whom he did two stints). He led the league in innings pitched three times and in hits allowed six times.
Defecting with the help of agent Joe Cubas, Hernandez signed a four-year, $4.5 million deal with the Marlins in January 1996. After splitting his season between Double A and Triple A affiliates, he made his major league debut with a scoreless three-inning relief stint on September 24. He spent the first two and a half months of the 1997 season back in the minors, but from mid-June onward went 9–3 with a 3.18 ERA in 17 starts for the Marlins, a performance that helped him tie for second in the NL Rookie of the Year voting (2018 ballot-mate Scott Rolen won unanimously).
Providing a dash of youth to a squad laden with expensive veterans brought in primarily via free agency, Hernandez found the spotlight in the postseason, going 4–0 in three starts and two relief appearances while becoming the fourth player to win NLCS and World Series MVP honors in the same year. In his first postseason start, in Game 5 of the NLCS, he struck out an LCS record 15, aided by home plate umpire Eric Gregg’s extra-wide strike zone. In his third, he worked around eight walks in eight innings to gut out a win in Game 5 of the World Series against the Indians; the Marlins won in seven.
After spending 1998 and the first half of '99 as a below-average starter with the Marlins, Hernandez was traded to the Giants in a late July deal. He went 17–11 with a 3.75 ERA while helping the team win the NL West in 2000, and while he was subpar in the next two years, he had a pair of good postseason starts that helped the Giants reach the World Series, though the Angels chased him early from his Game 3 and Game 7 starts. Traded to the Expos in spring 2003, he had his two best seasons—the only two in which he cracked his league's top 10 in in WAR—while pitching north of the border. He earned All-Star honors in the second, then did the same as the franchise moved to Washington in 2005.
Traded to the Diamondbacks in mid-2006—where he joined Orlando—he was part of an NL West-winning squad the following year, then beat an increasingly peripatetic path through the majors as a rotation filler for the Twins, Rockies, Mets, Nationals (again), Braves and finally the Brewers. Obviously, his wasn't a Hall of Fame career, but he does own the distinction of having the fourth-highest win total of any pitcher with an ERA+ of 99 or lower, and the highest raw ERA of any pitcher with at least 150 wins.
Of the trio of Mets pitching prospects labeled "Generation K" in the mid-1990s—1991 second-round pick Bill Pulsipher, 1994 overall number one pick Paul Wilson and 1991 44th round pick Jason Isringhausen — the last of those was the only one to approach stardom. Despite being beset by numerous injuries and enduring three Tommy John surgeries (!), "Izzy" pitched in the majors for 16 years, making two All-Star teams and leading the NL in saves for a pennant-winning Cardinals squad.
A draft-and-follow who didn't sign until May 1992, Isringhausen made a stellar debut with the Mets, on July 17, 1995, pitching seven innings and allowing two runs while striking out six. He more than held his own as a rookie, posting a 2.81 ERA in 93 innings, though his overall workload of 221 innings (including the minors) was aggressive for a 22-year-old. He posted a 3.58 ERA through his first 13 starts in 1996, culminating in a 132-pitch complete-game shutout of the Marlins on June 9, but was cuffed for a 6.20 ERA over his final 14 starts. Surgery to remove bone spurs and repair a tear in his labrum limited him to just six starts in 1997, and over the winter, he underwent his first Tommy John surgeries, costing him all of 1998. After struggling as a starter when he returned in 1999, he moved to the bullpen, and was sent to Oakland in a July 31 deal for reliever Billy Taylor.
By September, Isringhausen was closing. Over the next two seasons, he saved 67 games, made his first All-Star team (2000) and helped the A's to a pair of playoff berths. Upon reaching free agency, he signed a four-year, $27 million deal with the Cardinals; in 2005, he worked out a three-year, $25.75 million extension. From 2002–07, he helped the Cardinals to three playoffs appearances including a pennant in '04 and a championship in '06; over that span, he averaged 34 saves and 61 innings a year with a 2.66 ERA and 8.3 strikeouts per nine. He led the NL with 47 saves in 2004, and made his second All-Star team the following year while saving 39 games with a 2.14 ERA. Alas, he missed the 2006 championship run due to an arthritic hip that required surgery in late September.
After a strong 2007, Isringhausen endured his second Tommy John surgery in 2008. After pitching just eight innings for the Rays in ’09, he needed a third. Improbably, he didn't take the hint to retire, instead returning to make a total of 103 appearances with the Mets (2011) and Angels (2012) before hanging up his spikes.
A 1998 first-round draft pick out of Notre Dame, Brad Lidge's 11-year major league career might never have happened had he not been a quick study in picking up a devastating slider from Astros minor league coordinator Dewey Robinson. Beset by arm troubles as a minor league starter, his career took off when he swapped out his curveball—which he couldn't throw without pain—for the slider, which he paired with a mid-90s fastball to become one of the game's most effective relievers. He made two All-Star teams and pitched for three pennant winners, capping a season in which he didn’t blow a single save by recording the final out of the 2008 World Series against the Rays.
Lidge pitched only 23 games in his first four minor league seasons due to shoulder, elbow and knee injuries. The slider was his ticket to health and stardom. "I’ve never, ever had somebody pick it up so quickly and so devastating," said Robinson in 2010. "It had this huge break, it was an instant swing-and-miss pitch, and it was thrown harder than anybody I’ve ever taught before or since.” Called up for two stints in 2002—including a spot start in late September, his only one in a career that included 602 relief appearances—Lidge stuck the following season, and whiffed 10.3 per nine as a setup man in front of Billy Wagner. On June 11 of that season, he pitched two hitless innings as part of a six-man combined no-hitter against the Yankees. When Wagner departed via free agency that winter, Lidge took over and saved 29 games while posting a 1.90 ERA and becoming just the fourth pitcher to whiff more than 40% of batters he faced (Wagner was the first, in 1999); his 157 strikeouts is the fourth-highest total for a reliever in a season.
The Astros won the NL Wild Card that year and came within one win of the World Series. Lidge took the loss in the 11-inning Game 2 of the Division Series against the Braves but that was the only run he allowed in 12 1/3 postseason innings, during which he notched 20 strikeouts. After saving 42 games while helping the team to another wild card berth in 2005, he served up a towering game-winning three-run homer to Albert Pujols in Game 5 of the NLCS. The Astros still won in six games, but were swept in the World Series by the White Sox; Lidge took losses in Games 2 (Scott Podsednik's walkoff homer) and 4 (Jermaine Dye's RBI single).
After battling injuries and ineffectiveness in two more seasons with the Astros, Lidge signed a three-year, $37.5 million deal with the Phillies. The contract paid off immediately, as he converted all 41 save chances while pitching to a 1.95 ERA with 11.9 strikeouts per nine. He made his second All-Star team, placed fourth in the Cy Young voting, and went seven-for-seven in save chances with an 0.96 ERA in the postseason, capped by a strikeout of Eric Hinske to seal the Phillies' first championship in 28 years. Pitching through knee and elbow troubles in 2009, he was lit for a 7.21 ERA but somehow kept his job as closer. The Phillies won the pennant, but his lone World Series appearance was in a losing cause, as the Yankees scored three ninth-inning runs off him, keyed by Johnny Damon's mad dash from first to third base on a steal.
After undergoing a pair of offseason surgeries, Lidge rebounded to save 27 games in 2010, but totaled just 28 2/3 innings in 2011-12 while battling a shoulder strain and a sports hernia. Released by the Nationals in June 2012, he signed a one-day contract to retire with the Phillies on August 1, 2013.