Exit Interview 2020: Matt Carpenter

After every season (dating back to 2012), we’ve spent time looking at every player that got into a game for the St. Louis Cardinals that season.  They might have gotten a couple of innings, they might have played every day, but if they played, they get a post.  Usually, I like to term this like the players are packing up their locker and then seeing Mike Shildt before they head off for the winter.  This year, of course, was anything but typical.  So we’ll look at every player, we’ll take in some of their stats, but we won’t be giving out grades this season or delving too much into the positive/negative.  There are just too many variables in the Year of COVID for that to be reasonable.  As he has for the past few years, cardinalsgifs has lent his enormous talents to our header image and we thank him for it!

Player: Matt Carpenter

Season stats: 50 games, 169 PA, 22 R, 26 H, 6 2B, 4 HR, 24 RBI, 23 BB, 48 K, .186/.325/.314, 77 OPS+, -0.1 bWAR

Postseason stats: 3 R, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 3 BB, 4 K, .222/.429/.333

Statcast: .323 xwOBA, 9.8% barrel %, 88.2 exit velocity, 35.9% hard hit %

Best Statcast category: Barrel % (63rd percentile)

Worst Statcast category: xBA (12th percentile)

Hero/Goat: Hero 5, Goat 2


Overview: Do you remember, way back in the Before Times, when Matt Carpenter looked like he had changed?  When he was hitting in spring training, it wasn’t as if classic Carpenter had returned but it looked a lot closer to that than the terrible version of Carpenter that we was at the end of 2018 and all through 2019.  Then the pandemic hit, things stopped for a long time, and when games resumed that Carpenter really didn’t make it to the other side.  There were moments, of course, and a bit of a stretch here and there that looked pretty solid.  For instance, there was a five game stretch in September where he went 6-12 with two doubles and a home run.  Unfortunately, he went hitless in his next seven.

Statcast was no friend to him like it was when he struggled in 2018 before going on his tear.  Except for a surprising increase in barreling the ball, something that went up from 7.2% last year, nothing that he did was in the top half of the league.  His launch angle has steadily decreased over the past four years–though obviously that’s not everything.  He had almost the same angle in 2015 that he did last year and in ’15 he was an MVP candidate.  The biggest differentiator in the lines between those two years, except for the results, seems to be the fact that in 2015 he struck out at a 22.7% clip (which was actually higher than the next couple of years) and last year it was up to 28.4% of the time, which is easily the highest he’s had.  Too often, it feels like Carpenter doesn’t think he can do anything but walk and so he keeps wanting to do that, running deep counts that either end in his favor or, more likely, don’t.

He hit a little better at home (.763 OPS) than away (.535 OPS) and had his best power month in September, when he hit three of his four homers.  He was better in high leverage situations than any other kind of situation.  He actually did better against power pitchers than finesse pitchers, perhaps because the speed of the ball coming in helped get it to go out in something more than a weak grounder.  Two of his home runs came against the Cubs, so you have to appreciate that.  There is still some good parts to Carpenter’s game and maybe they’d have shown stronger if there were more games, but overall you lump this with what he’s done since August 14, 2018 and you get a .211 average over 700+ at bats, with 22 homers granted but also 113 walks to 131 strikeouts.

Outlook: There’s no doubt that the DeWitt’s desire to make Carpenter a legacy Cardinal made for a bad contract situation.  The Cardinals had an option for 2020 and they could have exercised that instead of guaranteeing 2020 and 2021 and giving him a vesting option for 2022.  Given the state of their finances, they are probably regretting that a little bit, as Carpenter will make $18.5 million next year with no significant reason to believe the statistical output will be much greater.  If he was a free agent right now, do you think he’d get close to that, even if the market wasn’t going to be depressed by the pandemic?  They overreacted to his hot middle stretch of 2018 and now they are going to pay for it.

The option vests if he reaches 1100 plate appearances over 2020 and 2021.  Prorated, that would now be 747, I believe, leaving 578 for next year assuming a full season.  That makes it even harder than it already was, because there was a requirement that he get 550 plate appearances in 2021 anyway.  If Matt Carpenter was at the top of his game, getting those plate appearances would probably not be an issue.  Now, however, he doesn’t lead off, Tommy Edman spells him at third fairly regularly, and the club is not going to go out of their way to make sure he reaches that level.  (That was my initial thought, but Jeff Jones tweeted it will be actually 643 PA in 2021, which will be almost impossible for him to reach.  I’ll leave my error there anyway because I’m wrong so often, what’s one more thing.)  Might they bring him back at a lower cost in 2022?  Sure, but that’s a long way off.  Appreciate Matt Carpenter when you watch him next year, because it might be your last chance in Cardinal red.

Also, after I wrote this and got it ready for publication, the Cardinals declined the option on Kolten Wong.  That means Edman will likely be the starting second baseman and may lead to more time at third or, if the DH comes, at bat for Carpenter.  I still don’t believe the option will vest–that’s a lot of plate appearances and it would be easy to give him a few days off–but it does increase the pressure on Carpenter to be better than what we’ve seen of late.

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