Continuing our NL Central position rankings, the St. Louis Cardinals find themselves behind the rest of the pack at third base, but with a lot of unknowns.
I think I am in the minority of fans that believe the Matt Carpenter we see in 2020 will be much closer to the one we saw before 2019 than the one we did see then. There’s no other way to say it, the root of the St. Louis Cardinals’ offensive issues in 2019 stemmed from his disappearing act at the plate.
For almost the last decade, Matt Carpenter has been a fixture at the top of the Cards lineup and quietly has been better than most of us realize. His high OBP at the top of the lineup has set the table for the rest of the team for years, and there’s no surprise that in a year where his batting fell off a cliff, the rest of the offense followed.
In the NL Central, there are some studs at third base. It’s not quite as strong as the middle infield, but finding where Carpenter fits best is an interesting debate. Sorry Tommy Edman, we aren’t going to include you in the third base debate this time. Let’s dig in.
5. Pittsburgh Pirates
If you’re like me, you had to look this one up. Colin Moran manned third base in 2019 for the Pirates and it looks like he will once again be the man for the job in 2020. Like Matt Carpenter, Moran would like to improve upon his 2019. Unlike Matt Carpenter, Moran hurt more than he helped last season (by his Baseball Reference -1.1 WAR).
Moran hit .277 but a lack of power left his OPS at just .751. In all, his 13 homers got him to just 6% below average offensively as a whole.
Defensively, Moran had -21 DRS, -7 OAA, and a -8.8 UZR at third base last season, which likely accounts for the negative bWAR. In all, He’s a liability with the glove and uninspiring with the bat.
4. Milwaukee Brewers
No longer do the Brewers have Travis Shaw or Mike Moustakas to man third base for them and in 2020 will rely on a mix between Jedd Gyorko and Brock Holt at the hot corner. We know all about Gyorko, who did not have a great season last year (.498 OPS, two homers), and the likely leader will be Holt, whom the Brewers acquired via free agency.
Other than his rookie year which he spent on the Pirates, Holt has been a career member of the Red Sox and has made a name for himself as a scrappy, heart and hustle kind of player. Holt had a pretty good year in 2019, batting .297 with a .369 OBP. He hit just 19 XBH all season so don’t expect much power from the lefty, but a singles hitter who gets on base as well as he does holds plenty of value for the top of a lineup,
With the glove, Holt can play almost anywhere, and even though he played just eight games at third base in 2019, he’s been an average defensive third baseman in his career. The Brewers really collected a lot of cast-offs this winter, so if Holt doesn’t work out, they have many names behind him.
3. St. Louis Cardinals
Here is where Matt Carpenter fits best, and while his 2019 was awful, I’m unfairly ranking him likely one spot better than he should be at. However, I again believe that Carpenter will be better in 2020 than he was in 2019.
Carpenter’s .226 batting average last season can’t be dolled up at all, it was bad. However, he still got on base at a .334 clip and had a great final month of the season (.866 OPS). By the end of the season, he had a slightly below average wRC+ (95) and pulled his season out of the pit it was in.
Defensively, Carpenter was very good at third base in 2019. With 5 DRS, -2.1 UZR, and +6 OAA. Carpenter expects himself to bounce back in 2020 and we do too, and that hope is enough for me to put him third on this list.
2. Cincinnati Reds
If you asked a casual fan how many homers you would think Eugenio Suarez hit last year, I think most people would guess in the mid-20s. Suarez is relatively known, but in 2019, he exploded at the plate. Hitting 49 homers, Suarez had a .903 OPS and was the anchor to a sneaky-good Reds offense. Suarez’s 133 wRC+ was third-best among NL third basemen.
Defensively, Suarez isn’t great, with -4 DRS and just 1 OAA, however, with a bat like his, the 28-year-old has no problems making the lineup daily.
1. Chicago Cubs
If you’re like me, you are surprised that Kris Bryant is still a member of the Chicago Cubs. Over the winter, there were many rumors about how the Cubs were trying to trade the 28-year-old third baseman, but nothing came up. They would’ve been moving on from the best third baseman in the NL Central.
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Bryant had a very good year in 2019, batting .282 with 31 homers and a 135 wRC+. Bryant is a great player, but it seems he may not be the mid-.900s OPS player he was in 2016 and 2017. Now, a player who has a consistent upper-.800s/low-.900s OPS is still great, but Bryant seems to have found his consistent self.
Defensively, Bryant is still slightly above average at third base, with 2 DRS, 2 OAA, and a -1.4 UZR. He may not be the 6.0+ fWAR player anymore, but Bryant is still a fantastic player with a chance to get back to that level.
Matt Carpenter isn’t the player he used to be, but there’s hope that he bounces back in 2020. If not, the Cardinals are going to have one expensive bench player.