The Cardinals’ search for an impact bat has dominated a very young offseason. Rumors began to swirl well before Jose Altuve made the throw to first to end the 2017 World Series. While some of the St. Louis fanbase has worried that one middle of the order hitter may not be enough to lead the team back to the playoffs, I’m here to argue that a second formidable hitter may already be on the roster.
The idea of Matt Carpenter hitting in front of a monster bat has excited me since the beginning of last season. I realize that neither Stephen Piscotty nor Randal Grichuk should have moved the needle when describing power options, but it did seem like a great fit in the high OBP model used for last year’s lineup construction. Dexter Fowler was brought in to play centerfield, lead off, and allow Carpenter to move into a run producing spot in the lineup. Aledmys Diaz and his high contact rate was penciled into the two hole, sandwiched by Fowler and Carpenter.
Slow starts by everyone in the top half of the lineup forced the club to move around pieces throughout the season. This made the lineup construction feel like a square peg in a round hole the entire year. Carpenter was moved back into the leadoff spot, Fowler was moved down in the order to take advantage of a new power profile, and Diaz regressed to the point that an extended stint in Memphis was required putting his career as Cardinal in jeopardy.
Good lead-off hitter, but not a spark.
Carpenter has fallen in line with the narrative that he can only succeed while hitting in the top spot. While he is an on-base machine, his lack of speed and poor baserunning keep him from being the proverbial lineup spark plug. The selective approach from Carpenter would be a huge asset hitting in front of a player with 30 to 40 home run potential. The opposing pitcher couldn’t pitch around Carpenter and would be forced to challenge a hitter that thrives on mistakes. Three straight seasons with over 30 doubles and 20 homers have shown that Carpenter can be a run producer. Couple those numbers with a .377 lifetime on-base percentage and you have a hitter that should succeed in the two hole or three spot.
The high O.B.P. potential from last year may be more suited for 2018
Moving Dexter Fowler, a fantastic baserunner, back into the leadoff spot would be my preferred move. A career on-base percentage at .366 shows that Fowler can get on base at a clip just short of Carpenter. Fowler also brings the electricity to the lead-off spot by taking extra bases and putting pressure on opposing pitchers and catchers. A heel injury kept Fowler from keeping pace with his career stolen base numbers, but the injury didn’t prevent him from being a net positive on the bases.
In this scenario, the second spot in the lineup will be the most interesting. Tommy Pham hit second a majority of 2017 and performed very well. A regression should probably be expected but it’s hard to ignore the .411 on-base percentage. Pham is another great baserunner who stole 25 bases last year and also took the extra base in over 60% of his chances. Carpenter would have chances to drive in runs at a high rate or get on base for run scoring opportunities himself. The lineup has a great chance to be very formidable.
We will also continue to roll out the Top 100 Cardinals throughout the winter.
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