Matt Carpenter, the salsa man. The third/first baseman. The leadoff hitter. The doubles machine. The Hall of Famer? Not at his current position. If the St. Louis Cardinals hadn’t traded David Freese, Carpenter would have remained at second base, and you may be quite surprised by the implications of that one little thing.
Offensively, Matt Carpenter would be one of the single best second basemen in history, let alone St. Louis Cardinals history. No, for real. I’m not joking. Stop laughing. In all seriousness, Marp shakes out on top.
In his career, Carp has an OPS+ of 130 (OPS+ is a league-average adjusted statistic, where 100 is exactly average).
Robinson Cano is at 127, Dustin Pedroia at 114, Roberto Alomar at 116, Craig Biggio at 112, and Jose Altuve at 126. Carpenter has been better at the plate than every single one of those players for his career. Think about that for a moment.
Carpenter has also averaged 21 homers per 162 games in his career, a mark only beaten by Robinson Cano at 24 homers per 162. That said, Carpenter has changed his swing in recent years to produce more over-the-fence power.
In the time span of 2015-’18, Marp has averaged 30 homers per 162 games. Robinson Cano averaged 30 homers per 162 over the four-year period of 2010-13. In other words, Carpenter has kept pace with the most prolific HR hitting second baseman of his generation.
To go further into power numbers, we can look at extra base hits. Carpenter averages 67 XBH per 162 games. Altuve averages 57, Biggio at 58, Alomar at 53, Pedroia at 59, and Cano at 69. Again, we will look at a peak performance for Cano and Marp, the only two to break 60 XBH per 162. Carpenter has averaged 75 XBH per 162 from 2015-18, and Cano at 79 from 2009-12. Again, Carpenter has kept pace with one of the best hitting second baseman of his generation.
One result of power numbers tends to be high RBI totals. Carpenter is no exception to that, averaging 77 RBI’s per 162 games from the leadoff spot. Robinson Cano leads the pack at 96 RBI’s per 162, though he has spent most of his career in the heart of the order when the table is all set for you.
Dustin Pedroia has averaged 78 RBI’s per year, Roberto Alomar sits at 77 RBI’s, and Biggio and Altuve each average 67. Altuve has spent most of his career at the top of the order, like Carpenter, but has not produced at near the same level. This goes to show just how scary Carpenter has been to opposing pitchers.
There are two other categories that second basemen tend to be judged on: runs scored and stolen bases. Stolen bases are the one category where Carpenter straight-up can’t compete. He has never stolen more than 5 bases in a year, with a total of 19 in his career.
The other second basemen we have been focusing on combine for 31 individual seasons of at least 19 stolen bases. The closest to Carpenter is Cano, who has a high of 10 SB in a season. Cano is undoubtedly a HOF’er even without the speed, so this would not be enough to keep Marp out.
Then there is runs scored. Second basemen typically profile as top-of-the-lineup hitters who get on base and score runs. Carpenter has done quite well in this regard, averaging 104 runs per 162 games. Biggio leads the pack in this category at 105 R’s per 162. Carpenter is second. Alomar is third at 103, then Pedroia at 99, and Cano and Altuve tied at 93.
This shows that Carpenter has not only produced from a power standpoint, but he also functioned more than capably as a table-setter at the top of the lineup. Even in recent years, when the Cardinals have severely lacked middle-of-the-order thump, Carpenter has kept scoring runs. He is unstoppable at the dish.
There are two sides to a HOF candidacy, however. Marp has not been the best defensive player as his career has gone on. He is in no way an elite defender. Never has been, never will be. That said, he was not so bad as to necessitate a move from the position. Compared to the rest of the aforementioned second basemen, Carpenter is close to the bottom in terms of defense, but not by much.
Most of the time I would turn to advanced metrics at this point, but that doesn’t work so well with the older players like Alomar and Biggio. So, we will turn to good old fielding percentage. Only a rough estimate of defensive value is really needed for the purpose of this article, therefore fielding percentage works out just fine.
Marp, for his career, sits at the back of the pack with a .981 fielding percentage at 2B. Jose Altuve is at .987, Biggio at .984, Alomar at .984, Pedroia at .991, and Cano at .988. This should be taken with a grain of salt, knowing that every other fielder on this list is a surefire Hall of Famer.
There is also an argument to be made that Carpenter would have gotten better at the position with more time, as he had never played 2B until he got to the majors. This alone should negate the fielding percentage argument. With more reps at the position, I could easily see Carpenter raising his fielding percentage by a handful of points.
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In every offensive category except stolen bases, Matt Carpenter rates at the very top of these elite second basemen. Even defensively, he is not far behind at all. Of course, all of this is for naught because of an ill-advised trade that sent David Freese away and moved Matt Carpenter to third base.
If that trade doesn’t go through, Carpenter would be well on his way to a Hall of Fame career. Marp would need to sustain his production deep into his 30’s to account for his late start (first full season at age 26), but he has had a wonderful start to his career. The disappointing thing is Carpenter is only average as a third baseman. He’s barely average on offense, and below average on defense. He has very little value at third base but is a HOF caliber second baseman.
Hindsight is, of course, 20/20 and it is impossible to say that Marp would’ve stayed at second base all this time, but wow do you have to wonder. Marp has a very good shot to make it at least in the Cardinal’s Hall of Fame, and I feel like that would be enough to humble him alone.