Introduction and Some Statistics:
Back on May 29th of this season, I wrote an article highlighting why I thought Matt Carpenter deserved to be considered for the MVP award. Sure, it was only 200 or so at-bats into his season at the time, but nearly 400 at-bats later, he has kept up this MVP-like pace at the plate.
In 573 at-bats, Carpenter is hitting .319 (5th in the NL) with a .390 on-base percentage (8th in the NL). Of his 183 hits, 50 of them have been doubles (most in NL), and seven have been triples (5th in the NL). He has 67 extra-base hits on the season–just one behind Reds slugger, Jay Bruce. He leads the NL in runs scored with 116 (next closest has 101), and lastly, he is first among NL lead-off hitters with 72 RBIs.
To provide a lasting impression on voters for his 2013 MVP campaign, Carpenter is having a torrid September–hitting .373 with seven doubles and two triples thus far. He is on pace for 199 hits–the most by a Cardinals player since Albert Pujols in 2003. Oh, and he also holds the record most hits in a season at the current Busch Stadium with 109 and counting.
Let’s take a quick look at two sabermetric stats–WAR and wRC+. Carpenter is third in the NL with 6.2 WAR–second is Carlos Gomez with 6.3 and first is Andrew McCutchen with 7.5. He is tied for seventh with Freddie Freeman of the Braves with a wRC+ of 146 (anything above 120 is considered “excellent”).
Breaking Down His Approach:
Carpenter has been one of the most patient hitters in the NL in 2013. He is averaging 4.09 pitches per plate appearance–sixth most in the NL. One of the main reasons he has been able to be so successful with this patient approach is his ability to hit when behind in the count.
Carpenter has had 112 at-bats (19.5% of his ABs) this season with an 0-2 count. One would think this would largely favor the pitcher. This is not the case with Carpenter. In those at-bats, he is hitting .330 with 13 doubles, three home runs, and 11 RBIs. After a 1-2 count, another count that largely favors the pitcher, Carpenter is hitting .306 with 15 doubles, four home runs, and 18 RBIs.
For perspective, I compared Carpenter’s average after 0-2 counts to NL MVP front-runner, Andrew McCutchen, to see just how good he has been. Well, in nearly the same amount of at-bats, McCutchen is hitting .171 after 0-2 counts–159 points lower than Carpenter. After a 1-2 count, McCutchen is hitting .234–72 points lower than Carp.
Carpenter simply does not swing and miss at very many pitches. According to BrooksBaseball.net, he has faced 2,658 pitches in 2013 and has just 120 whiffs–a measly 4.5%. That means that he can make contact on just about any pitch–in the zone or out of the zone. He does not only make contact on almost every pitch, but he makes solid contact as well. Let’s take a look at his heat-map with the batting averages listed for each pitch location:
The Swing Itself:
Have you ever found yourself rewinding the DVR to take a look at Carpenter’s swing after one of his doubles and said, “Man, that swings looks awfully familiar…” Well, if you have, I have the answer for you in the form of a .GIF from Chris O’Leary, a hitting mechanics expert.
Yep, that is St. Louis native and Phillies slugger, Ryan Howard. O’Leary had been following Carpenter since 2010 and thought so highly of his swing that he took the time to compare it to other major league hitters.
In 2012, O’Leary created the above .GIF and had this to say about Carpenter, “I think he has significant potential.” Yes, Mr. O’Leary, you were right, Carpenter clearly has “significant potential.” Somebody needs to give this guy a raise. He had it figured out that Carpenter was going to be a successful big league hitter long before any of us.
The one major thing different between their two swings is that Carpenter has a lot less holes in his–as shown by the heat-map above and the following statistic. Howard is averaging just over 140 strikeouts per season in his career while Carpenter is on pace for just 96 this season.
Will Carpenter win the NL MVP? Most likely not. The “sexier” pick right now is McCutchen who has helped provide Pittsburgh with their first winning season since 1992 (I was only two years old!). One could argue (including myself earlier in the season) that Yadier Molina is deserving as well–considering he has handled a rookie-dominated pitching staff and the fact that the team struggled with him on the disabled list.
However, Carpenter’s performance this season has definitely put him in the conversation. Just think if more runners had been on for his barrage of doubles this season. He would be nearing 100 RBIs from the lead-off spot–something that has not been done since Jacoby Ellsbury in 2011 who had 97 RBIs while batting lead-off (105 RBIs total).
If we want to break down the name of the award–Most Valuable Player–a little more, then it is clear who is most deserving. It is apparent that both Carpenter and McCutchen have been of utmost value to the success of their respective teams. However, Carpenter comes at a price of just $504,000 this season while McCutchen is making $4.5 million. After looking at those contracts, who really is more valuable? I know that contracts are not taken into consideration when it comes to the voting, I just like bringing that up.
Until next time…
P.S. I know I wrote about how Yadier Molina was the MVP of the first-half, but his second-half injury hurt his case for the overall MVP in my opinion.
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- Bird Bytes: Matt Carpenter’s historic season (stltoday.com)
- HBT: Could a Cardinal not named Yadier Molina win the MVP? (hardballtalk.nbcsports.com)