Exit Interview: Matt Carpenter

For the fourth straight year, we’re taking some time in that time between the end of the season and the winter meetings to discuss each player that made an appearance on the St. Louis roster this season.  Whether they played almost every day or never actually got into a game, they get covered in this series.  All stats are exclusively their time in St. Louis.   Just think of this as them stopping by Mike Matheny‘s office for a quick evaluation before heading home for the winter.

Player: Matt Carpenter

Season stats: 154 games, 665 PA, 101 R, 44 2B, 3 3B, 28 HR, 84 RBI, 4 SB, 3 CS, 81 BB, 151 K, .272/.365/.505, 134 OPS+, 3.9 bWAR

Hero/Goat: Hero 20, Goat 13

Overall grade: A

Positives: Led the team in home runs and did so by a considerable margin, which got him a new golf cart….also led the team in runs, doubles, RBI, walks, and OBP….had an OPS over 1.000 in the last month of the season….had a 1.183 OPS when he got into a full count….hit .327 with five homers with runners in scoring position, including a .500 average when runners were on third with less than two outs….stepped up in the big moments, posting a .997 OPS in high-leverage situations.

Negatives: Led the team in strikeouts as well, as he whiffed 40 more times than in 2014 in about 45 fewer plate appearances….had a legendary slump in the latter part of the first half after he moved out of the leadoff spot, hitting .225 with a .700 OPS in the 2-hole for the year….only had two months where his average was over .270….hit just .179 when the count was 2-2….hit only .209 against fly ball pitchers.

Overview: It’s tough to complain about what Carpenter brought to the team this year.  Without him, it seems unlikely that the Cardinals would have made the playoffs.  (Though, to be fair, there are some others that could also have that designation.)  Without him, the top home run hitter of the club has 17, which is amazingly low for this era of baseball.  He was a rock in the turmoil that was this injury-filled season.  Basically every day, you could guarantee that you’d see him in the lineup and, after the experiment of dropping him down, you’d find him at the top of it.

And yet, when you think about the Carpenter season, it doesn’t seem to be as fulfilling as past years in some regards.  We didn’t see those drawn-out battles of at-bats as much this season.  As noted, Carpenter struck out a lot this year, much more than in the past, and so often it seemed to come at times where even a grounder would have done some good.  Carpenter struck out in 22.7% of his plate appearances this year, up 7% from last year and easily the highest of his career.  While the mantra of “a strikeout is just like any other out” is ubiquitous in modern baseball (mainly because it’s basically true), it seems to me that you need more out of your leadoff hitter.  If Carpenter put up those numbers hitting fifth or sixth, I don’t think it’d have been so glaring.

On the other hand, his average (.272) was exactly the same as it was in 2014 and his OBP was just down 10 points.  His OPS, fueled by his significant slugging numbers, was almost identical to his amazing 2013 year.  Are we just holding Carpenter to a higher standard?  Are we just spoiled and expecting him to battle every time?  Would you rather a .270, 30 HR, 150 K Carpenter or a .285, 40 2B, 100 K Carpenter?  I guess it’s personal preference.  Either way, he’s an asset, just a different type depending on what he does.

Outlook: It seems pretty likely that we’ll see Carpenter out there for 150+ games again next year, assuming he can continue to stay healthy.  It would seem likely as well that he’ll be at third most of the time, with occasional shifts to second, unless John Mozeliak does something radical in the offseason and Kolten Wong is dealt.  Pretty unlikely, in my view, so we’ll see Carpenter leading off most every game in 2016.  Which Carpenter that will be remains to be seen.

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