Exit Interview 2019: Matt Carpenter

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.

If we’re talking about 2019, we’ve got to highlight the brand that made the most impact this season: Primos and their partnership with Jose Martinez.  Throughout the span of these interviews (today through Dec. 5) you can get 10% off your order of that sweet, sweet Cafecito coffee (well, I guess you probably have to doctor it to make it sweet) or anything else at their site.  My wife is a coffee snob and we’ve bought multiple bags of the medium roast.  It’s a great stocking stuff or Christmas gift as well, especially when you expand your order to pick up the Jose Martinez coffee mug.  So use code C70SAVE10 at checkout and show your support of their ties to the Cardinal fanbase!

Player: Matt Carpenter

Season stats: 129 G, 492 PA, 59 R, 94 H, 20 2B, 2 3B, 15 HR, 46 RBI, 6 SB, 1 CS, 63 BB, 129 K, .226/.334/.392, 91 OPS+, 0.8 bWAR

Statcast: 7.8% barrel %, 87.2 exit velocity, 31.1% hard hit %, .332 xwOBA

Hero/Goat: Hero 12, Goat 12

Overall grade: D

Positives: Won a big game in Wrigley Field in September with an extra-inning homer….six steals was a career high….hit .254 with a .787 OPS at Busch Stadium….had a .765 OPS in the second half….slugged .500 in September….was much better off the bench, posting a .316/.417/.684 line when he didn’t start a game….had a 1.168 OPS in 10 games batting seventh….hit .308 on the first pitch….hit .270 with runners in scoring position….had an .855 OPS with a runner on second….hit .247 in high-leverage situation, better than any other leverage grouping….had two homers in six games against the Braves (regular season)….hit .315 with a .902 OPS against the Cubs….had a .951 OPS against power pitchers….had a 12+% walk rate for the fifth time in the last five seasons.

Negatives: Had career lows in batting average, doubles, RBI, on base percentage, OPS, and OPS+….dropped over four wins in bWAR….hit .167 in his last six games (five starts)….had a .680 OPS against left-handers….hit .200 away from Busch, though he had seven homers on the road….had a .706 OPS in the first half….hit .153 when he was the first batter of the game and .206 when he led off an inning….slashed .204/.310/.352 batting leadoff….had a .540 OPS when he had two strikes….hit .211 when he was ahead in the count….had a .570 OPS when there were two outs in an inning….hit .196 with no homers with two outs and runners in scoring position….hit .239 in late and close situations….had a .472 OPS in the first inning….hit .161 against the Brewers….ruined the last rally of the season, grounding out with the bases loaded and two outs in the eighth inning of Game 4 of the NLCS.

Overview: Figuring out what went wrong for Matt Carpenter might be the most notable task for Jeff Albert and others in the organization this winter. In truth, some of the signs were there even the year before.  Carpenter had an amazing three months in the middle of the season, but the first six weeks and the last six weeks were pretty disheartening.  My personal fear was that the bad stretches would continue to lengthen and the good stretches would be a little less, but nobody saw this level of drop off for the longtime Cardinal.  He lost his hold on the leadoff spot and then, with the emergence of Tommy Edman, wound up losing his grip on being the regular third baseman as well.

Looking over Carpenter’s Statcast data, it’s notable that he hit the ball hard less often than he has since they started measuring these things. He lost eighty points of slugging on fastballs and became basically worthless on anything that wasn’t hard and fast.  Most of his plate discipline numbers look about the same (save that he swung at more first pitches than normal) which either indicates some bad luck (which is undermined by that hard hit rate) or things might be slipping for the almost-34 year old.  His weak-hit percentage skyrocketed even though his solid-hit % was in line with the rest of his career (2018 removed).  It feels like there’s some fundamental issues that need to be worked out to have a productive Carpenter again.

Outlook: The fact that the Cardinals tore up Carpenter’s 2020 option at the beginning of the year and instead gave him a two-year extension (with a third year option that vests with enough plate appearances) seemed a little unnecessary when they did it at the beginning of the season.  After 2019, it looks almost foolhardy.  If Carpenter struggles again next season, which is definitely in the realm of possibility, being able to part ways would be advantageous.  Instead, they are locked into him for 2021 (though it seems unlikely the 2022 option will vest).  It’s very possible that they will give Carpenter April and May to figure things out at third again.  After all, John Mozeliak said at the end-of-season press conference that their confidence in him was very high.

Perhaps he’ll bounce back like Dexter Fowler did this season and be somewhat productive.  It does look like his eye is still there so perhaps the struggles were just a bad year and he’ll get back into a groove next season to approximate what we expected from Carpenter before that ridiculous run in 2018.  I’m not overly optimistic on that score but it’s well within the realm of possibility.  Whatever the case, expect a lot of ABs from Carp in the first half of 2020.  Edman does complicate some things, but I think it’s more likely Carpenter’s your regular third baseman to start the season with Edman moving around unless and until he is needed at the hot corner regularly.

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