Early in the 2016 season, State College Spikes manager Johnny Rodriguez made it clear that his team was not full of “strikeout masters,” instead relying on the defense to do most of the work to get outs. That proved to be the case, as the staff finished the season 11th of 14 New York-Penn League clubs in strikeouts.
Lacking dominant strikeout-oriented starting pitchers, the Spikes worked their bullpen very hard. There were times throughout the season when the starting rotation faltered from injuries and hard-to-swallow transactions, leaving the relief pitchers to pick up the slack. In most cases the staff worked in harmony to deliver a win, forcing a few relievers to sometimes act as starters and leading to collective bullpen-led wins that carried the club.
For this reason, it was extremely difficult to decide which reliever made the most impact - definitely a good problem to have. Each reliever played a significant role in the team’s overall success that culminted in the league championship.
However one of the largest contributors to the bullpen-led effort was Eric Carter, our choice as The Cardinal Nation’s State College Relief Pitcher of the Year for 2016. The standout right-hander worked hard all season long and his efforts did not go unnoticed.
How He Got Here
Carter came to the Spikes after being drafted this June by St. Louis in the 26th round. The 24-year-old is a product of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, and hails from St. George, Utah. This spring, the 5-foot-11, 202-pound right-handed senior appeared in 26 games totaling 52 innings and earned four saves. He struck out 69 batters for an 11.94 K/9 rate. Carter only walked 12 batters for a 2.08 BB/9 and a 5.75 K/BB ratio before signing with the Cardinals on June 18.
Carter by the Numbers
While making 17 relief appearances for the Spikes, Carter posted a 2-0 record. He tossed 22 2/3 innings and finished with a 2.38 ERA. Carter yielded 18 hits and eight runs, six earned, and gave up just one home run. He kept his walk count very low at four (1.6/9), hit two batters, and struck out 26 (10.3/9).
Although Carter is right-handed, he was almost as effective against right-handed batters (.216) as left-handed (.206). Carter tied his teammate Brady Bowen with nine saves this season - the most of any pitcher in the New York Penn-League.
Why Carter Stands Out
Carter stood out as a reliever this season because of his ability to be quick and efficient on the mound. He never tossed more than two innings in a single game and was used almost exclusively in late innings of close games.
“Carter has a lot of stuff and his ball moves well,” said manager Johnny Rodriguez following an August Carter appearance. “He works quickly and guys struggle to catch up with him.”
Carter clearly impressed others this season with his selection to the 2016 NYPL All-Star Game. The 24-year-old was one of five Spikes named, but the only pitcher to represent the State College staff. In the mid-season contest, the right-hander tossed the final inning for the South squad, yielding two hits and no runs while striking out one.
Rodriguez agreed with Carter’s selection, saying it was “well deserved,” and that he had “worked very hard to get there” all season, along with the other four players selected.
Other Relievers Considered
Arguably just as clutch in close games this season was Brady Bowen, who was nearly chosen over Carter for the top spot. However Bowen’s hits allowed (30), runs scored against (11) and ultimately ERA (3.23), are higher than Carter’s (2.38).
Bowen pitched eight more innings than Carter, giving him more batters and more opportunity for error. Bowen made 18 appearances with nine saves, posting a 0-0 record. The left-hander struck out 32, gave up two home runs and walked five.
Like Carter, Bowen worked well in tight games and came up especially big by striking out the side to end the NYPL championship game against Hudson Valley.
Despite this huge contribution, Carter received the edge because he pitched slightly more efficiently all season long, opposed to Bowen who struggled just a little bit more with his pitch location at times.
Spencer Trayner’s 1-0 record might makes his results appear less significant, but that is far from the case. The right-hander actually threw 34 1/3 innings, second among Spikes relievers, and posted a 0.52 ERA over 18 appearances. The 21-year-old struck out 21, walked five and gave up four runs on 23 hits. The Tampa, Florida native earned four saves in five opportunities.
St. Louis’s 25th round pick in the 2016 draft has a promising future with the Cardinals and will continue to be the backbone of any staff he finds himself on.
Although Jordan DeLorenzo started one game this season, his best pitching took place while operating from the bullpen. The left-hander posted a solid 2.90 ERA while giving up 28 hits, 11 runs, two home runs and 12 walks. He had an impressive strikeout total (38) over 31 innings of work.
Link to master article with all 2016 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. Of course, that will include our selections as the State College Spikes Starting Pitcher and Player of the Year.
Follow Kara Duriez on Twitter @KaraDuriez.
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