2014 Fantasy BaseballFantasy Baseball

2014 Fantasy Baseball: Expectations for Matt Carpenter

Matt Carpenter Fantasy Baseball
Photo credit: spdpat

After a magnificent sophomore season in 2013, expectations are very high for St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter. Even though Carpenter wasn’t set to hit free agency for a couple years, the Cardinals rewarded him last Saturday by signing him to a six-year, $52 million contract extension, which essentially buys out his first two seasons of free agency.

Although handing out a big extension like this may seem a bit risky considering Carpenter is a 28-year-old coming off a breakout season, he is a tireless worker, and if he keeps producing like he did in 2013, the contract will prove to be a great investment for the Cardinals. Carpenter’s 7.0 WAR in 2013 was in rarefied company, trailing only Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Josh Donaldson, Carlos Gomez, and Miguel Cabrera. According to Drew Silva, Carpenter provided tremendous value last year.

Although he likely won’t replicate the gaudy statistics he posted last season, Carpenter should still provide great value for fantasy owners as long as you select him at the appropriate price tag. Without further ado, it’s time to examine Carpenter’s fantasy prospects for the upcoming season.

2013 Season Recap

As mentioned earlier, Carpenter had one helluva season last year as he hit .318 with a .392 OBP to go along with 11 home runs, 78 RBI, and 126 runs. Carpenter’s 126 runs scored led all of Major League Baseball and so did his 55 doubles. Additionally, his 199 hits were tied for the most in MLB along with Texas Rangers slugger Adrian Beltre. Although he doesn’t possess the prototypical speed of a leadoff hitter, he still managed to hit seven triples. Not too shabby.

The one situation where Carpenter really excelled in was with runners on base, specifically when he had RISP. Take a look at the chart below to see how Carpenter only got better when fellow Cardinals were on base.

AB

Hits

HR

RBI

AVG

OBP

Bases Empty

445

128

9

9

.288

.358

Runners On

181

71

2

69

.392

.468

RISP

116

45

1

62

.388

.458

RISP w/2 Outs

68

25

1

32

.368

.469

Bases Loaded

9

7

0

20

.778

.571

Carpenter’s batting line when he had ducks on the pond (bases loaded) was remarkable, albeit it was a small sample size. He certainly won’t hit .778 in bases loaded situations in 2014, but you already knew that. His .388 average and .458 OBP with RISP really stood out though. It could be chalked up to being a fluke or that he was feeding off the rest of the Cardinals lineup who managed to hit .330 with RISP as a whole, the best in MLB over the last 40 years. But if you look back to 2012 Carpenter still managed to hit .311 with RISP. It seems as if Carpenter just has a knack of coming up with timely hits.

You may be wondering if Carpenter’s splits against right-handers and left-handers raise any cause for concern. The short answer is no, not really. In 429 at-bats against righties, Carpenter hit .329 with a .410 OBP. In 197 at-bats against southpaws, Carpenter hit .294 with a .353 OBP. Batting almost .300 against pitchers of the same handedness is impressive. His home and road splits are encouraging as well. In 311 at-bats at Busch Stadium, Carpenter hit for a sizzling .360 average and in 315 at-bats on the road he still managed to hit a respectable .276.

Batted Ball Profile

Most of the aforementioned statistics tend to suggest that Carpenter could be on the verge of becoming an elite level hitter, if he’s not already there. With one excellent season under his belt, looking at advanced statistics should give us a better idea of whether Carpenter can maintain his production in the long-term or if a regression is on the way. Take a look at the table below.

Year/Stat

BB%

K%

LD%

GB%

FB%

IFFB%

HR/FB

2012

10.0%

18.5%

23.8%

40.2%

36.0%

3.5%

7.0%

2013

10.0%

13.7%

27.3%

38.7%

34.0%

0.6%

6.1%

The numbers in red highlight the statistics that Carpenter excels at. According to FanGraphs, his BB% (10.0) and K% (13.7) he had in 2013 both rate as above average numbers. Carpenter’s high OBP is a byproduct of the copious amount of walks he draws and his consistent ability to put the ball in play. One number that was left off the table that also bodes well for his chances to keep up an average above .300 is evidenced by his contact rate of 88.8% he posted in 2013.

The league average line drive rate is 20% and you can see that Carpenter has a substantially higher line drive rate than most other MLB players. Lacing a plethora of line drives into the outfield helps to offset the below average ground ball rate he has compared to the MLB average (44%). As mentioned earlier, speed is something Carpenter doesn’t possess, but putting the ball on the ground more would help Carpenter find more holes and keep his average up. His fly ball rate of 35% over his brief career is right around the MLB average of 36% so no problems there, especially since he isn’t considered a power hitter by any means.

Carpenter only hit 11 home runs last year in 626 at-bats and his career HR/FB ratio of 6.55% shows that he will likely never develop 20 home run pop. This isn’t necessarily a problem though as Carpenter is the leadoff hitter for the Cardinals and his job is to get on base as much as possible so that he can be driven in by the likes of players with power such as Matt Holliday, Allen Craig, Yadier Molina, and Matt Adams. Carpenter also posted a minuscule IFFB rate of 0.6% which is excellent considering the MLB average is 10%. Not giving away automatic outs by hitting infield fly balls is another sign that Carpenter can keep his average above the .290 mark.

As you can see by the spray chart above Carpenter is mostly a pull hitter, with most of his extra base hits landing in right field. That’s not to say that he doesn’t use the whole field though, as he has plenty of singles in left and center field and also a few doubles. By being able to utilize the whole field to his advantage, Carpenter is able to avoid the dreaded shift many teams put on left-handed hitters who tend to pull the ball.

2014 Fantasy Outlook

Fantasy owners seem to be very high on Carpenter’s fantasy prospects for the upcoming season, as evidenced by his NFBC ADP of 54. With his batting average, runs, and RBI all likely to decrease, it’s quite possible he may not live up to his lofty draft position. His value can still be had at an acceptable draft position though, I managed to snag him at pick 76 in the League of Extraordinary Expert GMs I participated in a little over a week ago and was quite pleased about it. If possible, I would advise waiting until picks 61-90 (Rounds 6-8 in standard 12-team league) to select Carpenter, although each draft is different and that may not be possible.

Although Carpenter will be the third baseman for the Cardinals this year, he will still be eligible at second base in most formats and that’s the position you should select him to play. This is because corner infield spots like first and third base are spots where you want to make sure you select players who have power and that’s not really Carpenter’s forte. He becomes infinitely more valuable as a second baseman. Currently I have Carpenter ranked as the fifth best second baseman, trailing only fantasy studs such as Robinson Cano, Jason Kipnis, Dustin Pedroia, and Ian Kinsler.

My forecast for Carpenter in the upcoming season calls for him to hit .305 with 12 home runs, 65 RBI, 104 runs, and five stolen bases. In a high-powered offense like the Cardinals, Carpenter will still be crossing home plate a boatload of times as well as having an ample amount of RBI opportunities. As long as he can stay healthy, fantasy owners can expect Carpenter to put together another very productive season. He’s a surefire top 80 value, just be sure not to reach too far to draft him.

Thanks to FanGraphs, ESPN, BrooksBaseball, and NFBC for the statistical data. Feel free to comment with any thoughts or questions and don’t hesitate to ask me any questions you may have on Twitter. You can follow me @MattMoczy.

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