Back on May 15, St. Louis Cardinals infielder Matt Carpenter was hitting a paltry .140/.286/.272 after going 0-4. It looked to be headed towards a lost season for the 32-year-old. He’s been an All-Star caliber player, but no one really notices because he’s always been a low-key and unflashy player that who never put up MVP numbers.
And this year looked to push his awareness, outside of St. Louis, down even more, because when you cannot even hit above the Mendoza Line, the only attention you will get is scrutiny from your fanbase.
But it’s funny how baseball works because the season that looked to be the worst of Carpenter’s career is looking like it may result in his best and earn him potentially his first MVP. If not a win, he’s definitely at least put himself in the conversation with a legitimate case.
May 15 seems so long ago, and May 16 signaled a complete 180 turnaround for the veteran. Since then, is Carpenter is hitting an astounding .333/.446/.703 with 22 HR and 25 doubles (as of the morning of July 30). Regarding the counting stats in the power department, 22 homers and 25 doubles would be a good year for anyone. But they have come in just 65 games for the Cardinal.
His season line is up to an elite .948 OPS (4th in the NL) and 156 OPS+ (1st in the NL) with 25 home runs (2nd) and 31 doubles, and Cardinals still have 57 games left, so it’s realistic to think that he can get 35 home runs, challenge for 40, and collect at least 50 doubles (hit 55 in 2013). And his standout game of the season, and perhaps career, came during the 18-5 drubbing of division rivals Chicago Cubs on July 20 where he went 5-5 with three home runs and collected 16 total bases.
And while the traditional stats like him, the metrics love him too. Only 23.9% of his batted balls have resulted in grounders, which has helped him accumulate an average launch angle of 21 degrees, according to Statcast data. But that does not mean much if you don’t hit the ball hard.
And Carpenter has an average exit-velocity of 90.3 mph, whereas the MLB average is 87.3 mph. According to FanGraphs, just 9.8% of batted balls, have been ‘soft,’ while over 50% have been ‘hard-hit.’ And 14.4% of batted balls have been barreled which ranks him in the top 5% of the league.
Carpenter’s expected slugging is .627 which puts him in the top 1% of the league, his weighted on-base average of .397 is top 4%, and his expected weight on-base average of .429 is top 2%.
Expected slugging takes into account type of contact made by the batter and the angle at which the ball leaves the bat. The statistic uses that data to see the kind of power a ball with similar, or identical; numbers have resulted in the past.
According to FanGraphs, “Weighted On-Base Average combines all the different aspects of hitting into one metric, weighting each of them in proportion to their actual run value. While batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage fall short in accuracy and scope, wOBA measures and captures offensive value more accurately and comprehensively.”
His success is legit, which makes his candidacy for the NL MVP award the same. The race is pretty wide-open, with guys like Freddie Freeman, Christina Yelich and Nolan Arenado at the forefront, and others like Lorenzo Cain and Javier Baez in the mix too. Carpenter deserves to be in the same conversation, if not ahead.
Arenado may have slightly better numbers, but his home-road splits again prove the “Coors Effect” is real. Freeman has the better on-base percentage by 16 points, but the power numbers do not compare. And Carpenter has given the Cardinals more defensive value regarding versatility. He’s played three different positions this year.
And according to Baseball Reference, all three are close in WAR, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th. 1st is Lorenzo Cain, but mainly because of his excellent defense in center field. No one with a .807 OPS should ever win an MVP award. Javier Baez and Christina Yelich are other guys in the running, but Carpenter has better numbers across the board than either.
The best case that these guys have over Carpenter is that their teams have better records than the Cardinals or are in playoff position. But we have seen players whose team missed the playoffs win the award; it happened just last year with Giancarlo Stanton. Plus, the Cardinals are over .500 and within striking distance of Wild Card spot, and without Carpenter carrying them for over two months, they would not be in this position.
It ultimately depends on your criteria for the award. Do you want to give it to player A for having the best season, regardless of playoffs? Or to player B who had a relatively great, but lesser, season than player A, but the player B’s team made the playoffs.
It’s going to be an exciting race because no one in the National League appears that he will separate himself from everyone. But one thing for sure is that Matt Carpenter has turned into a guy with a genuine chance to win the NL MVP.
Featured Image via Flickr/Keith Allison
Have a tip we should know? firstname.lastname@example.org