Matt Carpenter is a game of what if for the St. Louis Cardinals

Matt Carpenter (13) hits a grand slam against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Carpenter (13) hits a grand slam against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning at Wrigley Field. Mandatory Credit: Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports /

Most fans have Matt Carpenter’s position for 2021 on the bench. What if Matt Carpenter rights his ship and doesn’t let the shift sink him in 2021?

During the 2019 and shortened 2020 season, Matt Carpenter created a lot of anxious St. Louis Cardinals fans when he stepped up to the plate.

After the 2018 season, Carpenter signed a two-year $39 million contract extension with the club taking him through 2021. Many fans seemed thrilled with the move as Carpenter had an outstanding season in 2018 where he became the team’s 5.0 WAR third baseman, hitting .257/.374/.523 with 36 home runs, 81 RBI, and a .357 wOBA.

Since 2018 though, Carpenter’s production has gone downhill.

During his 471 plate appearances in 2019, according to Baseball Savant, the shift was deployed 417, or 88% of the time. With the shift, his wOBA was .315, and without the shift his wOBA was .294. In his shortened 2020 season, of his 168 plate appearance the shift was deployed 163 times, or 97%. He had a wOBA with the shift deployed of .292 and without the shift deployed his wOBA was .174.

Opponents seemingly caught on that Carpenter couldn’t produce with the shift on or off. In 2020, Carpenter was thrown a strike on his first pitch 59.8% of the time. He swung on that first pitch just 23.1% of the time.

In 2019, Carpenter pulled the ball 44.7% and went opposite field 24.6%. That changed quite a bit in 2020, where he pulled the ball 52.2% of the time and went opposite field only 18.5% of the time.

Of course, opposing teams will deploy the shift on him!

All that in mind, it was nice to see this happen at batting practice at the spring training facility in Jupiter, Fl., today.

That’s right. All those hits were to the opposite field!

Pulling the ball is quite possibly what Carpenter and Hitting Coach Jeff Albert and staff were working on during this particular batting practice. This might not be a trend. It very well could be nothing to write home about.

But, what if after two seasons of struggling, Matt Carpenter has figured out some things with his approach and swing? What if he returns close to his 2018 form? What would Carpenter’s place on the Cardinals actually be?

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With the acquisition of Nolan Arenado, it can be easily assumed, Carpenter will not retain his spot at third base. Paul Goldschmidt solidifies Carpenter will not be at first base. Tommy Edman has the job at second base for the taking. And, as Matt Graves notes, we should not expect Carpenter to get a shot at a corner outfield spot. In this post from Andrew Heckroth, Carpenter may be relegated to a platoon role with the club.

Based on the past couple of seasons, Carpenter will likely only be seen in a limited role in 2021.

It will be interesting to see how Spring Training plays out over the coming weeks.  If we see his ability to lay off swinging at first-pitch strikes improve and he continues to work and improve in pulling the ball to the opposite field, we may not be asking ‘what if’ when it comes to Matt Carpenter.

He very well could fall into the “his bat plays” role. If it does happen, it will be concerning to see who takes the fall and why.

Next. Predicting the 26-man roster at the start of spring. dark

I am really not too worried about this coming into play. I think Carpenter will do OK in a platoon role. He is a whatever is best for the team kind of player. Sometimes it is just fun to play What If!