St. Louis Cardinals: Matt Carpenter a dark horse MVP candidate in 2016
By Landon Clapp
St. Louis Cardinals third baseman is looking to put together a complete 2016 and challenge for National League MVP Award.
Could St. Louis Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter be a legitimate MVP candidate next year? According to the Baseball Writer’s Association of America (BBWAA), there are three pieces of criteria that voters are to consider when choosing their Most Valuable Player of each league.
Those “rules” are said to have been the guiding points for the MVP selection process since the first ballots were cast… in 1931. Listed below are the rather vague descriptions of what the BBWAA considers an MVP candidate, taken from bbwaa.com.
- Actual value of a player to his team, that is, strength of offense and defense.
- Number of games played.
- General character, disposition, loyalty, and effort.
Making an argument for Matt Carpenter as an MVP candidate over the past couple of seasons, based on the criteria listed above, wouldn’t be terribly difficult to do. The problem is that Carpenter’s impact on his team is particularly difficult to quantify. He is a gamer, plain and simple. With respect to criteria #3 above, Carpenter stands head and shoulders above the pack in the way he plays the game each and every day.
Realistically, though, we live in a baseball era where statistics rule all. If you expect to win the MVP, you better have big numbers in each of the Triple Crown categories (HR, RBI, Batting Average). Carpenter simply hasn’t measured up to the other elite talents in the National League in regard to those figures.
How about we dig into the bag of hypotheticals a little bit to see if we can’t make a stretch or two in coming up with a feasible MVP scenario for Carpenter in 2016? That stretch wouldn’t be as hard to make as you might think.
I am in no way predicting or expecting the numbers that I am about to come up with from Carpenter in 2016. That would be an awful lot to expect from a guy that already does a ton for the Cardinals organization. I am simply trying to establish a ceiling that Carpenter COULD reach in 2016, and making a case for why those numbers would mean MVP considerations for Carpenter.
For starters, Carpenter would almost certainly need to eclipse the 30 home run mark. Last year he hit 28. Obviously, 30 is an attainable number, particularly with Carpenter shifting his focus to a more aggressive approach at the plate, as he looks to drive more baseballs into the gaps and out of the yard.
Even though batting average is a wildly misleading statistic in measuring a players total offensive value, for MVP purposes, Carpenter is probably going to have to be at or above the .300 mark. Carpenter finished well below that mark in the 2013 and 2014 seasons, finishing at .276 and .269 respectively.
Consider this, over the course of 600 at-bats, the difference between a .270 and .300 hitter is 18 hits. That math comes out to Carpenter needing just one extra hit a week over the course of the season, something that luck alone could take care of in 2016.
Carpenter is also going to need to drive in at least 100 runs. In 2015, Carpenter managed to drive in a team-leading 84 runs, with the vast majority of his at-bats coming from the leadoff spot. If Carpenter is able to make the transition to a more traditional run-producing position in the Cardinal lineup, 100 RBI becomes a very reachable figure.
Finally, a wild card Sabermetric statistic that has weighed heavily on MVP voting over the past couple of seasons has been Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Over the past three seasons, the National League leader in WAR has also won the MVP award, and it is now widely used as an additional statistic in MVP discussions.
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WAR would be Carpenter’s best opportunity to claim MVP votes that might go to candidates with better Triple Crown figures. Taking the extra base, working a ten-pitch walk, all of the “little” things that make Carpenter the player that he is, have the potential to snowball and boost his WAR value in a big way.
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, all of this happening in 2016 is a stretch and then some. It would not be fair to expect Carpenter to hit each of the figures that I have laid out in this piece. However, It does shed some light to the fact that Carpenter is not THAT FAR from being an MVP candidate, if he puts an entire season together.
Carpenter showed flashes of MVP-like production for stretches of the 2015 season, with major lulls mixed in as well. Last year, Carpenter sported a .318 batting average at the end of the day on May 31.
By the end of August, he was hitting just .262. What does Carpenter’s final batting average look like if he just hovers around the .275 mark in the June-August months, instead of the combined .226 that he turned in over that same time frame?
Interestingly, Carpenter had just eight home runs on May 31. He didn’t hit a single long ball for the entire month of June. Then he combined to hit 20 homeruns over the seasons final three months.
In September, he put it all together. Carpenter hit 8 long balls, slashed .309/.382/.673, while driving in 15 runs during the ultra-competitive NL Central stretch run.
For fun, those September numbers (over 110 at-bats) would project out to 40 home runs, but just 75 runs batted in over 574 at-bats (Carpenter’s total in 2015). Four of Carpenter’s eight September homers were solo shots, so that didn’t help any in the RBI department.
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MVP-level production has been there, just not in a consistent manner. Matt Carpenter is smack dab in the middle of the prime of his career. The next step in his budding career is to put a complete season together.
Should he hit the power and average numbers he has proven capable of, and do it from April through September without a dip in between, he has a chance to be a serious contender for the National League MVP award in 2016.