Matt Carpenter’s recent struggles at the plate, in the field, and on the base paths have fans questioning his role with the St. Louis Cardinals.
The St. Louis Cardinals began the season with plans to have new CF Dexter Fowler leading off, 2016 rookie sensation, Aledmys Diaz, playing short and batting 2nd and 3-time All-Star, Matt Carpenter, playing 1st base and batting third.
The idea was that Fowler and Diaz, who had an OBP of .393 and .369 in 2016, would get on base. Carpenter, who slashed .271/.380/.505 with 21 HR and 68 RBIs, would drive them in. That was the plan. However, the best-laid plans of mice and Mathenys often go awry.
Fowler, Diaz and Carpenter all struggled in the first half of 2017. Fowler and Diaz posted OBPs of .331 and .293, both substantially below their 2016 production. Carpenter has slashed .243/.378/.450 with 14 HR and 44 RBI, which isn’t bad from a production standpoint but lags behind his career slash line.
Fowler’s injuries and struggles in the lead-off spot and Carpenter’s perceived struggles in the 3-hole, lead Mike Matheny to move Carpenter to the lead-off spot and Fowler down in the order.
Carpenter has slashed .297/.433/.534 with 5 HR and 17 RBIs in 151 PA out of the lead-off spot in 2017. By contrast, he slashed .226/.360/.440 with 9 HR and 27 RBI in 197 PA in the 3-hole.
Carpenter’s insistence that his recent success just happened to coincide with his having been moved to the lead-off spot, was reported on MLB.com:
"“I was starting to swing the bat better the last couple days before they made the switch. It ended up just being a day that Dexter got the day off, and I was up there and put it all together,” Carpenter said. “I’m starting to see the ball better, but I don’t think it’s based off where I’m hitting. But it’s going well for us.”"
The fan base isn’t quite convinced. Carpenter’s 2017 performance echoes his 2016 slash line of .222/.364/.250 in 44 PA out of the 3-hole, vs. .276/.386/.527 in 511 PA out of the lead-off spot. Fans are starting to suggest that Carpenter is a “head-case” who can’t hit anywhere but lead-off. Some are even calling for him to be traded, in spite of his recent uptick in performance.
Carpenter’s struggles in the 3-hole aren’t the only thing that has landed him in the doghouse with many fans.
Carpenter has struggled on defense. Carpenter’s dWAR in 2017 is -.1. He has a fielding % of .875 at 2B and .992 at 1B. The league average at those positions is .980 and .994.
Carpenter’s Rtot and Rdrs at 2B is -2 and 0. At 1B they are 0 and 3. Carpenter has committed 4 errors in 8 games at 2B and 5 errors in 76 games at 1B.
Matt Carpenter has arguably been the worst base runner on the team in 2017. His 6 OOB (outs on bases) is the worst on the St. Louis Cardinals and 10th-worst in the league.
Further muddying the waters, is the promising start of home-town favorite, 1st baseman, Luke Voit. Voit has slashed .302/.362/.628 with 3 HR and 8 RBI in 47 PA.
There are three paths the Cardinals can take with Matt Carpenter.
Option 1: Leave Carpenter at 1st Base.
- Carpenter’s recent performance at the plate has been encouraging. He has slashed .325/.420/.400 in 50 July PA, which suggests his second half may be trending much more towards his career .280/.376/.461 slash line.
- His 1.5 WAR is 3rd best on the team.
- He has played markedly better at 1st base than at 2nd base and he has only logged 1 game at 3rd base in 2017.
- Carpenter is signed through 2019 with a team option for 2020. He will make 10M in 2017, 13.75M in 2018, 14.75M in 2019 and 18.5 with a 2M buyout in 2020. If Carpenter can return to his career averages, this isn’t bad money for the caliber hitter Carpenter has been.
- Carpenter’s 14 HR and 44 RBI is respectable production, but it may not be enough to justify Carpenter occupying a spot on the field usually filled by a power hitter and run producer, particularly if Carpenter can’t produce anywhere but the leadoff spot.
- Carpenter’s .243 average is 6th best on the team, 36th amongst first basemen and 141st in the league.
- Carpenter’s .450 SLG is 4th best on the Cardinals, 30th amongst 1st basemen and 91st in the league.
- As noted above, his defense and base running have been disappointing in 2017.
- Leaving Carpenter at 1st base relegates Luke Voit to backup duty.
Option 2: Move Carpenter back to 2nd or 3rd Base.
- Opens up a spot for Luke Voit to play
- Opens up a spot for the Cardinals to add a middle of the order bat via trade or free agency
- Creates an opportunity to play Yadier Molina at 1st base and call Carson Kelly up from the minors to split time behind the plate.
- The Cardinals could create space in the OF for a trade candidate like Christian Yelich or Marcel Ozuna or an internal candidate like Magneuris Sierra or Harrison Bader, by moving Stephen Piscotty to 1st base.
- Creates an opportunity for the Cardinals to trade Kolten Wong, Paul DeJong or Jedd Gyorko to address organizational needs.
- Carpenter has been terrible at second base in limited action thus far in 2017.
- Carpenter has put up career numbers of .955 Fld% at 3B, .979 at 2B and .993 at 1B. His career Rtot is 0 at 3B, -9 at 2B and 2 at 1B. His career Rdrs is -8 at 3B, -10 at 2B and 2 at 1B. These numbers suggest 1st base is his best defensive position.
- While Kolten Wong’s defensive numbers don’t really look much better than Carpenter’s career numbers at 2nd base. His Fld% .965, Rtot -1, Rdrs -2. dWar -.1, 8 E in 47 games, has been better than Carpenter’s 2017 performance at second base. There is reason to believe Wong has the potential to perform significantly better on defense than he has thus far.
- Jedd Gyorko has outperformed Carpenter’s career stats at 3B with his Fld% .968, Rtot 6, Rdrs 13, dWar 1.6, 6 E in 71 games in 2017.
Option 3: Trade Carpenter to another team.
- See Option 2
- The St. Louis Cardinals could potentially acquire a couple of high-level prospects for Carpenter.
- The New York Yankees need a first baseman. They have a pretty good prospect by the name of Gleyber Torres the Cardinals could ask for.
- Eric Hosmer will probably be a free agent at the end of 2017. He has slashed .311/.368/.480 in 2017. He is 27 years old.
- The Cardinals could trade for a more prototypical power-hitting 1st baseman to fill the void in the middle of the order.
- Hosmer is the best potential free agent candidate and his career offensive numbers of .281/.338/.433 are not really an improvement over Carpenter’s career numbers. Additionally, Hosmer has not put up great defensive numbers at first base with a -.6 dWAR Fld% .997 Rtot -5, Rdrs -1, and 2 E in 2017. He is likely to cost more money than Carpenter.
- If the club doesn’t go with an internal option, they will need to give up money or prospects that might be better spent improving other problem areas like shortstop, the corner outfield positions, a middle of the order bat and bullpen help.
The Final Verdict:
Carpenter has performed too poorly at second and third base to justify displacing Jedd Gyorko or Kolten Wong in order to move Carpenter around the diamond. Therefore, I’m vetoing option 2.
The St. Louis Cardinals have other options at 1st base. Voit has shown promise at the position. Piscotty and Gyorko have played there before.Piscotty is the option I find most intriguing.
Moving Piscotty would open up a spot for the red-hot Bader, who has slashed .296/.354/.517 in 350 AAA PA or Sierra, who has slashed .444/.487/.444 in 39 PA with the big club. They could also fill Piscotty’s OF spot with Yelich or Ozuna, should the club opt to make a move to get one or both.
If none of those options prove satisfactory, the Cardinals could pursue free agent Hosmer or attempt to trade for a power-hitting first baseman in the off-season.
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Carpenter is 31 years old. He’s not a good defender or base runner. For those reasons, I think if the Cardinals can get a couple of really good prospects for him or package him in a deal that returns some talent that fills other needs, the Cardinals should trade Carpenter.
If the St. Louis Cardinals can’t get that kind of return on Carpenter, they should keep him at first base and platoon him with a right-handed bat to address his .190/.341/.317 slash line vs. left-handed pitching.
Matheny should move Carpenter back down in the order. His slash line did suffer while he was in the 3-hole, but his 14 HR and 44 RBIs aren’t so bad. There’s also his claim that his improvement when moved back to the lead-off spot was just a coincidence. Give him a chance to prove it.
The club has other options for the lead-off spot, including Fowler and possibly Sierra or Wong, depending on whether Fowler can return to his career numbers and Sierra and Wong can avoid regressing.
However, the St. Louis Cardinals lack solid middle of the order bats. Whether or not Carpenter can be one of those middle of the order guys may ultimately determine whether or not his bat is worth his shortcomings with the glove and on the base paths.
Ultimately, the St. Louis Cardinals will make their decision with an eye towards which moves can best help the club return to playoff contention. Shoring-up 1st base won’t do the St. Louis Cardinals much good if their bullpen can’t hold a lead or the club is still struggling to score more than 1 or 2 runs a game.