A DH is almost a certainty for the St. Louis Cardinals in 2020. While we’ve discussed other options, sometimes it’s more simple. Hello, Matt Carpenter.
When you think globally about the St. Louis Cardinals’ roster, two players make the most sense for who should be the regular DH in the 2020 season. With the current pandemic, it seems that the DH is one item on the MLB’s agenda that won’t get much of a discussion moving forward.
With bigger fish to fry, it has just become a certainty at this point that the DH will be implemented league-wide. Once it’s here, it’ll be hard to get rid of.
At this point, this fan doesn’t really care and while it may cause some strategy to be lost, it offers the Cardinals a few ways to get creative with their aging stars.
That is, of course, Matt Carpenter. We all know how 2019 went for Carpenter, and it wasn’t that great. The final month of the season brought up his season numbers, but he still sat at a .226 batting average, .334 OBP, and a 95 wRC+. His WAR was still 1.2, so he was technically above average as a whole, but his offense was way below what fans are used to from him.
The 34-year-old hit .219 with a .702 OPS from the beginning of the season until the end of August. Then, in September he went on to bat for a slash of .267/.366/.500 over the final month of the season.
Moving forward, we have no idea what we are going to get from Carpenter offensively, but letting the veteran focus strictly on batting may help him be more successful. As with the argument that playing Fowler at DH lets Dylan Carlson play, the same thing can be made with Carpenter and Tommy Edman.
However, this argument only works if Edman was for real in 2019. By expected values, Carpenter underperformed in 2019. Because of that, it’s reasonable to expect a bit of a bounceback in 2020. For Edman, his expected values say that he slightly overperformed.
Edman’s expected batting average was .287, he batted .304. His expected wOBA was .330, his actual was .356. The biggest difference in expected values was in slugging, where he slugged 59 points more than his expected (.500 vs .441).
So, it seems at least a slight slide in production could be coming, but there’s also another factor you have to weight with Edman: speed. Edman is in the 97th percentile of sprint speed, putting him among the quickest players in the league. Because of this, it’s reasonable to expect that Edman might push past his expected values. wOBA factors in sprint speed, which would give us the most dialed-in view at how much Edman actually overperformed his expected values.
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59 points is a big push, and I wouldn’t expect him to slug .500 in 2020, but him turning singles into doubles because of his speed can explain a difference.
Getting Edman’s bat in the lineup is important if he’s what we expect him to be.
Back to Carpenter, focusing every day on just his hitting could calm his mind and help him devote more of his energy to staying productive with the bat.
The argument for Carp at DH can’t be made solely on the standpoint that Edman is a better defender. While he has a higher UZR (0.1 vs -2.1) than Carpenter, Carp grades out better at third base by DRS (+5 vs +2) and OAA (+6 vs +3). This could be in part due to the small sample Edman has at third base (382.1 innings), but Carpenter is at least as good as Edman was at third base in 2019.
Another year on Matt Carpenter’s legs may make his defense decline, but I think there is enough of an argument that both their bats should be in the lineup.
Matt Carpenter’s contract expires after 2021 if the vesting option doesn’t kick in. There may be adjustments due to the current playing situation, but I don’t believe he will get to the point where that final year (2022) vests. Carpenter needs 1100 at-bats between 2020 and 2021, and at least 550 at-bats in 2021. Given that he got 492 last season, I don’t think it’ll happen.
Carpenter is going to play this year, just like he did all of last year. The Cardinals need to be smart and maximize their chances with the DH and putting Carpenter there is a good way to do it.