For the sixth straight year, we’re taking a look back at everyone that played for the St. Louis Cardinals this season. Whether they were a major contributor or a bit player, here all year or for just a little while, we’ll look at their season and talk about what went right and what went wrong. The stat line listed is just their time in St. Louis, though splits and other numbers in the discussion may be for the entire year. Imagine this as them stopping by Mike Matheny‘s office for a little review on their way home for the winter. As always when you see incredible artistry in the blogs, all credit for the header work goes to @cardinalsgifs.
Player: Matt Carpenter
Season stats: 145 G, 622 PA, 91 R, 31 2B, 2 3B, 23 HR, 69 RBI, 2 SB, 109 BB, 125 K, .241/.384/.451, 120 OPS+, 2.9 bWAR
Hero/Goat: Hero 12, Goat 10
Overall grade: B
Positives: Put up the second-most HR and had the second-highest OBP of his career….had a career high in walks….hit 21 of his 23 home runs against righthanders….had a strong July when he slashed .322/.402/.437….had a .420 OBP during September….had a .974 OPS in games the Cardinals won….hit .293 with a .911 OPS when he led off a game….hit .345 on the first pitch….had a .458 BA and a 1.522 OPS in the 25 plate appearances where he hit a 1-0 pitch….had 135 plate appearances reach a full count, easily higher than any other count….had a .949 OPS with runners in scoring position….had a .417 OBP with two outs and runners in scoring position, though he hit just .205 in those situations….slugged .500 in high leverage situations….had four home runs against both the Pirates and the Brewers.
Negatives: Became a lightning rod for criticism, especially on Twitter, for a number of things, including questionable baserunning….his .241 batting average was the lowest of his career….his 2.9 bWAR tied for the lowest mark in a full season in his career….hit just .202 against left-handers, a mark that dropped to .174 when you factor out relievers….hit .202 with a .770 OPS in August as he nursed a shoulder injury….save for July, did not have a month that he hit over .250….had 52 games outside of the leadoff spot and wound up hitting just .200 in those games….hit just .190 with two outs in an inning….hit .227 with an .803 OPS in the first three innings….had a .637 OPS against power pitchers….hit .143 against the Cubs.
Overview: Man, that was a frustrating season by Carpenter. On the one hand, you don’t want to be like the Reds fans that bust on Joey Votto for his patience and walks, but on the flip side, Votto also hits .320 and slugs .500 to go along with those league-leading walks. It feels like, while Carpenter’s eye is a good thing, sometimes he’s just looking for a walk instead of looking for his pitch. There was a stretch after he returned from a few days off dealing with that shoulder that he walked or struck out something like 75% of the time. (We talked about it on Meet Me at Musial, I know.) It feels like Carpenter’s patience should do more for the team if he’s going to be the big cog in the machine. Whether he should be that focal point is another story, I guess, but right now before the offseason remodeling, that’s where we’re at.
You can also point to the fact that offseason plan of “death by OBP” didn’t really work out the way they wanted and in part that was because Carpenter couldn’t hit outside of the leadoff role. Are Carpenter’s walks as valuable as they could be when he leads off, knowing that he’s not going to steal? That going from first to third could be a questionable choice? I don’t know. While we like to think that Carpenter is a poor man’s Votto (and in some regards, he probably is) there’s also some different expectations and repercussions from the fact that Carp’s a guy that has to lead off, it seems.
All that said, there’s no doubt that Carpenter is still a fine player. When you are almost a three win player and that’s a bad year, you have a lot of value. He’s not a guy that you just discard, no matter how frustrating his season is. That said, there is the argument that Carpenter’s a bit of a roster clog, given his defense. He shouldn’t be playing third and Jedd Gyorko is there anyway. Kolten Wong keeps him off second (or should). He can play first, but then you have things like shipping off Matt Adams and trying to find time for Jose Martinez. And that’s not even talking about the fact that a lot of “impact bats” play first base, those sort of bats the Cardinals are looking for.
Outlook: It sometimes feels that Carpenter is a round peg for a square hole or a puzzle piece that just doesn’t quite fit. It’s possible that this offseason will change that puzzle and make his piece more inline with everything else. Of course, there’s also the possibility that he’s part of the deal that helps reshape this roster, though I still believe the Cardinals have a higher value on Carp than anyone else in the league does. When Carpenter doesn’t have to be the focus of the offense, I think the frustrations and aggravations we had for him this year will decrease quite a bit. There are still flaws, of course, but who doesn’t have them? Those flaws just get magnified when he’s “the guy”. We’ll see if he has to be that guy next year.