St. Louis Cardinals: The return of productive Matt Carpenter?
It may to early to look for some, but Matt Carpenter has really come around over the past month, which is a big deal for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Matt Carpenter is slashing .304/.394/.609 since May 25 for the St. Louis Cardinals, a big turnaround from his .199 average before then. Obviously, a change like that doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen on a whim either. Here are three changes that Carpenter has made over the past month to elevate his play.
Hitting to the Right Spots
First 44 Games: 45.1% Pull, 31.4% Center, 23.5% Opp
Last 29 Games: 41.7% Pull, 33.3% Center, 25% Opp
One of Carpenter’s biggest problems to start the season was hitting into a second baseman that was shifted closer to the left side of the field. With the shift phenomena sweeping the baseball world, Carpenter was left in the dust.
He has gradually moved away from his pull approach, and it has shown in the diversification of his hitting. While the percentage difference don’t seem like much, these changes are actually quite drastic considering the amount of time it took for them to occur.
Now that his hit distribution is more varied, teams can’t be as inclined to lean the second baseman towards that side of the field, which has paid dividends for Carpenter over this last month. If he can keep it up, he will look more like the All-Star Matt Carpenter that St. Louis Cardinals fans miss dearly.
Swinging at the Right Pitches
First 44 Games: 51.1% Z-Swing, 20.5% O-Swing
Last 29 Games: 60.0% Z-Swing, 19.4% O-Swing
Carpenter has been known as a walk-drawing machine for his whole career, but that got into his head a bit to start the season. With his pledge that he would return to his old approach, Carpenter began hitting far too passively. St. Louis Cardinals fans everywhere cringed at the sight of another fastball down the heart of the plate that he stared at.
While his walk rate has dropped off slightly from the beginning of the year, it has been replaced many times over by much better contact and presence in the batter’s box. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand how much of a difference the Z-Swing percentage makes, but the important thing is that he has done it while decreasing his O-Swing
This is a sign of not just aggressiveness, but familiarity and comfort. He is not just letting loose and hacking away; he seems to actually see the pitches better, and has responded with far more success than earlier in the season.
Seeing and Driving the Ball
First 44 Games: 74.2% Contact, 46.1% Hard Hit, 0.6 GB/FB, 8.9% HR/FB
Last 29 Games: 79.1% Contact, 54.8% Hard Hit 0.47 GB/FB, 20.9% HR/FB
This plays into the previous point about Carpenter’s ability to see the ball. Ability to make contact is another great indication of how a hitter is seeing the ball, and Carpenter’s jumps in contact percentage is no surprise. You need to make contact in order to hit, so making better contact overall is a huge factor.
Not only is Carpenter hitting the ball more, he’s hitting it harder as well. That’s a godsend for St. Louis Cardinal fans. Carpenter has been a doubles and home run hitter for awhile, as his lack of speed can hamper his value slightly when he’s not in scoring position. Warding these thoughts off has been key to Carpenter’s success.
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Out of 29 hits in his first 44 games, 17 were either doubles or home runs, and it was still apparent that he had trouble relaxing and properly reverting to his contact form that helped Carpenter pick up almost 200 hits for the 2013 St. Louis Cardinals. However, he has the same number of doubles and home runs in his next 29 games out of 35 hits overall.
While he had problems balancing his old and new approaches before, Carpenter has been able to do so masterfully in this latest stretch, picking up nine homers in those 29 games, compared to just four over the first. While his value doesn’t come from home runs, it is just another part of his game benefiting from more comfort and vision at the plate.
While his ground ball rate wasn’t remarkably high before, the drop in his GB/FB rate has also been important. While part of the increase comes naturally from the elevated home run rate, Carpenter has been getting his barrel on the bat and hitting the ball harder as a whole, resulting in less ground balls and more balls lifted in the air. This elevated hitting has made Matt Carpenter a bright spot in the St. Louis Cardinals offense over the past month, and hopefully it will continue.
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Do you think Carpenter’s streak will continue, or is this just a flash is a frying pan? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.