Chris Carpenter and C.J. Wilson face off tonight in Game 5 of the World Series, in a rematch of Game 1. How did each pitcher attack the other during their first start? Should they try anything different tonight?
In Game One, Carpenter was effective if not entirely dominant. He lasted six innings while allowing six baserunners (five hits, one walk) and striking out four. He allowed a two-run home run to Mike Napoli, but that was the extent of the damage. It was a solid start from Carpenter, and I’m sure the Cardinals would gladly take a similar start from him tonight.
So what was Carpenter’s gameplan? It turns out what I had to say when previewing Carpenter for the NLCS was only partly correct:
He only works three main pitches — a sinker, a cutter, and a curveball — and he doesn’t mix up his use depending on the handedness of the batter too much. He throws his sinker around 45% of the time, his cutter 30% (although more often against righties), and his curveball 20% (more often against lefties). He also throws an occasional changeup, but he uses it rarely and almost exclusively throws it to left-handed hitters.
Against the right-handed heavy Rangers, Carpenter decided to go with an interesting approach: he all but ignored his curveball, throwing his sinker and cutter around 90% of the time. He used his sinker more against lefties (70% vs. L; 60% vs. R), and mixed in more cutters against right-handed hitters (30% vs. R; 20% vs. L). He even threw his sinker quite frequently when he got ahead of the Rangers, choosing to keep the Rangers on the ground rather than try and put them away with his curve. He worked low in the zone, and finished the night with an 8-3 grounder to fly out ratio.
Especially considering that tonight’s game is in Arlington, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Carpenter stick to the same strategy. He likely won’t rack up the strikeouts by only throwing two pitches, but his main challenge is in keeping the Rangers in the yard. If he can prevent them from hitting home runs, he has a good chance of keeping the Cardinals in the game.
While Carpenter was effective in Game One, Wilson was a mess that somehow managed to keep the Rangers in the game. He allowed 10 baserunners in 5.2 innings (six walks, four hits), and only struck out four batters. Considering he only let up three runs, though, it was the sort of start that some writers might describe as “gutsy”. Or maybe “scrappy”.
Paul Swydan has a full breakdown on Wilson’s Game One pitch selection over at ESPN today, so check that article out if you want a full analysis of his start. But if you’re looking for some of the basics on him, Wilson throws five main pitches: a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, cutter, curveball, and slider. Against lefties, he normally focuses on his two fastballs and slider, and he breaks out his cutter and curveball more often against righties. But even then, Wilson’s slider is his main out-pitch against both righties and lefties.
In his Game One start, though, Wilson got away from his normal gameplan. He threw his cutter 43% of the time against righties — considerably higher than normal — and he threw more curveballs than sliders overall. His curveballs did get quite a few swings and misses, but considering his struggles, Wilson should theoretically break out his slider more often and back off his cutter use to a degree.
But again, read Paul’s article because it gets into the nitty gritty details much more than I can in this space. Wilson can easily improve this time out; he simply needs to get back to what he knows.