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St. Louis Cardinals: The Evolution of Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter

When it comes to the St. Louis Cardinals I often hear people say that they have a lot of good players, but not a star player. This seems like a fair take when looking at their roster. Adam Wainwright is clearly not a star pitcher anymore. We all know what Carlos Martinez is capable of doing, but will he take that step into stardom? On the hitting side there are a lot of good players, and then there’s Matt Carpenter. He has always been viewed as the player on the bubble of stardom. We all know that he’s a great player, but is he a star? It turns out, he just might be.

Carpenter busted onto the scene in 2013 with a phenomenal year hitting .318 with a .392 on base percentage, but only 11 home runs. This was obviously a very productive year even without a lot of home runs. However, he took an overall step back in 2014 and hit only 8 home runs. He was falling into the good but not great category as a hitter.

In the spring of 2015 I remember comments being made by both Matt Holliday and Carpenter himself that he was going to try to drive the ball more. When I hear players saying that, I typically assume it means that they’re going to attempt to hit more fly balls. Let’s take a look at what has happened to Carpenter’s batted ball profile over his career.

FB% Pull% Hard%
2012 36.0% 32.5% 34.2%
2013 34.0% 36.6% 33.1%
2014 35.2% 31.9% 33.3%
2015 41.7% 39.3% 37.0%
2016 43.2% 48.1% 41.9%
2017 44.6% 52.7% 40.5%

I chose to single out the three stats that I believe add up to home runs; fly ball percentage, pull percentage, and hard hit percentage. As you can see, Carpenter’s FB% has been rising steadily since he made those comments. With the bump in fly ball came more hard hit balls as well. This combination led to him hitting 28 home runs in 2015.

In 2016 Carpenter was having a phenomenal season before suffering an oblique injury in July. He just wasn’t the same hitter once he returned. Before the injury he logged 351 plate appearances with a .298/.420/.568 slash line and a 162 wRC+ while also hitting 14 home runs. Those are MVP type numbers if they can be sustained over an entire season.

In 2017 we’re seeing the same Matt Carpenter that we saw before his injury last season. Through 132 plate appearances he is slashing .267/.424/.535 with a 154 wRC+ and he currently has 7 home runs.

One more important thing to note in Carpenter’s batted ball profile is his pull%. Pulling fly balls tends to lead to more home runs than spraying fly balls all around the stadium does. 2015 was a great year for Carpenter’s power numbers, but he seemed to take another step forward in 2016 with his pull% jumping almost ten percent. We may have seen a new, MVP caliber Matt Carpenter that was masked by an oblique injury.

How does this stack up?

To put this in better context, I looked at Carpenter’s 2016 batted ball profile compared to last season’s top three home run hitters.

FB% Pull% Hard% Home Runs
Mark Trumbo 43.1% 42.0% 39.3% 47
Nelson Cruz 37.5% 40.7% 36.4% 43
Brian Dozier 47.7% 56.4% 34.7% 42
Matt Carpenter 43.2% 48.1% 41.9% 21

As you can see, Carpenter compares very well in these areas. Now there are multiple other things that contribute to home runs totals including the ballpark and luck. But it looks like if things go right for Carpenter he’s capable of hitting home runs with the best of them.

Carpenter doesn’t sacrifice OBP.

Now we all know that hitting home runs isn’t everything. A spike in home runs can also lead to a spike in strikeout rate for many players. Getting on base has always been a big part of Carpenter’s game and that hasn’t changed.

O-Swing% BB% K% OBP
2012 22.5% 10.0% 18.5% .365
2013 22.8% 10.0% 13.7% .392
2014 17.4% 13.4% 15.7% .375
2015 23.0% 12.2% 22.7% .365
2016 22.5% 14.3% 19.1% .380
2017 19.6% 21.2% 22.0% .424

By looking at O-Swing%(Percentage of pitches swung at out of the zone) we can see that he isn’t chasing any more pitches than normal. He strikeout rate has risen some over the years but it has coincided with a rise in walk percentage. Overall, his on base numbers remain intact.

When you consider that Carpenter has the batted ball profile to show that he’s capable of hitting enough home runs to be at the top of the league while also keeping elite on base skills, we could be watching an MVP candidate. Would it be nice to have another big bopper to go along with him in the middle of the order? Of course. But don’t overlook what the Cardinals have in Matt Carpenter.

Thanks for reading!

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