Coming into the 2013 season many were excited about the thought of rostering Matt Carpenter. There was a lot to like about the youngster who was going to play second base for one of the better teams in baseball. Add in the fact that Carpenter also entered the year qualifying as a first and third baseman and the luster on his star continued it's upward racing trend. When it was announced that he would likely leadoff, a role he filled for 136 games, the fever pitch reached a crescendo. What did the jack of all trades do in 2013? He lived up to expectations, blew past them, and decided he would just go ahead and become one of the best offensive players in the game. Here are some of the numbers.
Matt Carpenter led the majors with 126 runs scored. Impressive.
Matt Carpenter led the majors with 55 doubles. Impressive #2.
Matt Carpenter tied with Adrian Beltre the for lead in hits (199). Impressive #3.
Matt Carpenter hit .318. That was the 8th best mark in the league.
Matt Carpenter got on base at a .392 clip. That was the 11th best mark in the league.
Put the parts together and you end up with one impressive fantasy line of .318-11-78-126-3 with a .392 OBP and .873 OPS. How many players in baseball went .300-10-75-100 with an .870 OPS? The answer is five, and they are some of the titans of the game: Matt Holliday, Paul Goldschmidt, Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera and Mr. Carpenter. Wow is right.
But therein lies the problem. He was almost too good.
Since 2000 seven men have produced 125 runs in back-to-back seasons (Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols did it 3-times straight). Of those seven men, who accomplished the feat 16 total times, the lowest homer total in any of the seasons was 25. As noted above Carpenter only hit 11 homers and that bodes extremely poorly for his chance to score 125 runs again since his power isn't likely to spike (more on that in a moment).
Since 2000 there have been 23 instances of back-to-back seasons with a .318 batting average. Recent history certainly doesn't rule out Carpenter doing it again. The first issue that recommends Carpenter's strength in batting average is his strike zone understanding. Carpenter struck out just 98 times in 626 at-bats and he walked enough to lead to a 0.73 BB/K ratio. That's not elite, but it's a very solid level of performance. What about his BABIP? After an impressive .346 mark in 2012 that number went up further to .359 in 2013. It's pretty darn difficult to boast 3-straight years with a mark of at least .345, but maybe Carpenter is the guy to do it since players do set their own levels in this measure (the league average is about .300). Still, his marks have been so high that you have to be very nervous about a 3rd such season in a row. What makes me even more nervous is the 27.3 percent line drive rate he tossed out there in 2013. That mark was the 6th highest in baseball and it's damn nearly impossible to post back-to-back seasons with a mark that high. The mark was over 23 percent in 2012 with the Cardinals, but if we look back at his 2011-12 minor league effort we find a 16 percent mark. That doesn't warm my heart.
As for the power, that's not coming. In 339 minor league games Carpenter hit 28 homers. That level of power is pretty consistent with the level he posted last season for the Cardinals. Through 937 big league at-bats he now had 17 homer, owns a 35 percent fly ball rate an a 6.2 percent HR/F ratio. Those numbers paint him as a less than complete big league power hitter. Duh.
Next are the RBIs. Seventy eight is a large total for a leadoff man in the NL as batting behind the pitcher isn't exactly a positive. It's also highly likely that the .388 batting average and 1.001 OPS Carpenter posted last season in 116 at-bats with runners in scoring position will go down (he's good but Ted Williams he ain't). If he bats leadoff again his RBI total will likely dip.
One final note. With the deal that sent David Freese to the Angels in exchange for Peter Bourjos the working model for the Cardinals is for for Kolten Wong to play second base with Carpenter playing third base. Obviously that gives Carpenter second base eligibility from last season with third base eligibility close on the horizon in 2014.
Carpenter will almost certainly be over-drafted in 2014. He doesn't have much power or base stealing speed, and that limits him in two of the five fantasy categories in a standard setup. That makes those willing to spend a top-25 pick on Carpenter out there on a limb that's gonna snap. Even if we push him back and say that he's a top-40 selection, is that warranted? Time will tell, but without improvement in the HR/SB categories he's going to find it exceedingly difficult to live up to expectations like that. I'd take Carpenter on every one of my teams in 2014 but I fear his cost will be pushed up so high that he won't end up on one of them.
By Ray Flowers
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The co-host of The Drive on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius 210, XM 87: Mon-Thurs 7 PM, Fri. 9 PM EDT), Ray also hosts a show Sunday night (7-10 PM EDT). Ray has spent years squirreled away studying the inner workings of the fantasy game to the detriment of his personal life. Specializing in baseball, football and hockey, some consider him an expert in all three.
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