USA TODAY Sports is counting down the top 24 candidates on the 2018 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot in advance of the Jan. 24 election results. The countdown is based on voting by our power rankings panel, which includes five Hall voters.
No. 23: Chris Carpenter
Carpenter's 15-year career had two distinct stages, starting with a six-season run of mediocrity with the Toronto Blue Jays before rising to stretches of brilliance interrupted by a multitude of physical ailments during his nine seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals.
As the staff ace, Carpenter was one of the driving forces in their World Series championships in 2006 and 2011, winning the opener and the clincher in the last one.
A three-time All-Star and the 2005 Cy Young Award winner in the National League, Carpenter also made a mark with his determination to come back from career-threatening injuries that required surgeries to repair his elbow and shoulder and to address thoracic outlet syndrome.
The case for: During the five-year stretch between 2005-09, Carpenter finished in the top three in the NL Cy Young voting three times. He would probably be regarded as the league's top pitcher over that span except he had just one decision each in two of those seasons because of injuries.
With a .605 winning percentage stemming from his career record of 144-94, Carpenter had a higher mark than contemporaries Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, among several other Hall of Famers. Carpenter led the league in a number of categories, including ERA, winning percentage, innings pitched, complete games and WHIP, though only once each.
Carpenter was also a standout October performer, logging a 10-4 record with a 3.00 ERA in 18 postseason starts. Most memorably, Carpenter outdueled friend and former teammate Roy Halladay in Game 5 of the 2011 NL Division Series, a 1-0 Cardinals victory over the Philadelphia Phillies. Carpenter threw a three-hit shutout to propel St. Louis to the NLCS on the way to the World Series crown. He started three games in that World Series, winning two, including Game 7.
The case against: Even though Carpenter showed some flashes of excellence during his time with the Blue Jays, it wasn't until his first season in St. Louis that he established himself as a star-quality performer, relying on a sharp sinkerball and improved command. By then he was 29.
When healthy, Carpenter was a workhorse who pitched more than 220 innings four times, leading the league in 2011 at age 37. It just didn't happen often enough. That was his final full season in a career that saw Carpenter average 22 starts a year. By comparison, the late Halladay – a stronger candidate for the Hall – averaged 26 starts despite enduring some arm woes of his own.
Carpenter's 3.76 career ERA, while not high enough to discount him entirely, still falls beyond the typical Hall standards.
X-factors: Part of what made Carpenter such an admired figure in the game was his dogged determination to overcome injuries and extract the most out of his ability. In July 2012, he had a rib removed as part of a procedure to correct thoracic outlet syndrome – a relatively unknown malady at the time – and returned to action two months later.
“He's been through I don't know how many surgeries. He's overcome so many obstacles already,'' longtime teammate Adam Wainwright said at the time. “So I wouldn't call it a miracle. I'd just call it a tribute to how hard he works."
Consensus: Carpenter's tenure with the Cardinals featured a 95-44 record and a 3.07 ERA, Hall-worthy numbers if he had been able to produce them throughout his career. But the ailments and early ineffectiveness made for too big an obstacle to overcome in his quest for the Hall.