Every year since 2012, we’ve spent some time after the season looking back at those that wore the Birds on the Bat. Whether it’s a bit player that got into just a couple of games or someone that played almost every day, we’ll look at their stats, their positives, their negatives, and grade them based on what we would have expected from them. The stat line is from their time in St. Louis, though splits and other numbers may include time with other teams, if applicable. Think of this as like the players packing up their locker and then seeing Mike Shildt before they head off for the winter. Once again, our great header work comes to us from cardinalsgifs, who continues to be a master.
Player: Matt Carpenter
Season stats: 156 G, 677 PA, 111 R, 145 H, 42 2B, 36 HR, 81 RBI, 4 SB, 1 CS, 102 BB, 158 K, .257/.374/.523, 143 OPS+, 4.9 bWAR
Hero/Goat: Hero 15, Goat 17
Overall grade: A
Positives: Was basically the hottest player alive from mid-May through the end of August, hitting .317/.420/.677 in that span with 32 home runs….had a series for the ages in Wrigley Field right after the All-Star Break, putting up a ridiculous .529/.619/1.706 line and swatting six home runs in those five games, including one that he didn’t even start…his three home run, two double day in that series was even more incredible when you realize that Mike Shildt took him out of the lineup in the sixth….had nine home runs in just short of 200 PA against left-handers, even as he hit just .232 against them….actually put up a 1.068 OPS against left-handed starters….23 of his home runs came on the road….his OPS was over 1.000 for both June and July….hit .301 with a 1.024 OPS in games the Cardinals won….had 140 plate appearances with a full count, easily the highest number of PA of any count….hit .394 and had a 1.472 OPS when the count ended with zero strikes….13 of his home runs came with two outs in the inning….hit .291 with eight home runs in the first inning….22 of his home runs came off of finesse pitchers….had 19 RBI against the Cubs and 11 against the Brewers….had a 1.015 OPS leading off a game.
Negatives: Started the season ridiculously slow and was hitting .140 in mid-May….he bookended the season with rough stretches, as he hit .200/.331/.324 in his last 41 games….hit just one home run in September….went 2-14 during the last week of the season as the Cardinals fell out of the playoffs….hit .198 in games the Cardinals lost….hit .220 with runners in scoring position, though he did have a .886 OPS in those situations….hit just three home runs in high-leverage situations….hit .150 with an .857 OPS in the ninth inning….hit .206 versus power pitchers….hit .185 against fly ball pitchers.
Overview: It was a weird year for Carpenter, honestly. He started the season ridiculously slow and came under fire by some fans that thought he was a “diva” because he could seemingly only hit in the top spot and even then wasn’t doing much. Those comments basically evaporated as he scorched his way through the summer, fueled seemingly in part by the salsa he produced from the garden Adam Wainwright planted for him. Then, just as the salsa hit it big in local grocery stores, the magic wore off and his struggles, while not the only reason, were a big part of why the Cardinals fell just short. So it’s hard to say that a man that almost led the league in home runs, was in the MVP discussion, and created a taste for salsa didn’t have a A season, but there were definitely some clouds to that bright outlook. On the plus side, it felt like his defense was better than it had been and there were much fewer TOOTBLANs from his legs, most likely the influence of Jose Oquendo‘s return.
Outlook: Carpenter’s still a great talent and if the Cardinals can get a true slugger and attention-grabber, Carpenter could be even greater because it still feels to me that, as good as he is, Carpenter’s not necessarily the guy you want as the focus of the offense. I also wonder about those slow starts and slow endings. This was the second year that Carpenter had not gotten out of the blocks quickly, though 2018 was much more dramatic and much longer-lasting than 2017. Some of the comments we were making at the beginning of the season, pointing out his age and style of play, are still worth keeping in mind. I expect that Matt Carpenter will have a very good 2019, especially if he has someone like Bryce Harper taking off some heat for him, but I also have a feeling Carpenter’s window as a very good player is perhaps starting to close.