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2014 Fantasy Baseball: Matt Carpenter’s Skeptics Were Right

Matt Carpenter Fantasy Baseball
Photo credit: spdpat

Matt Carpenter was a rather contentious player in the offseason. The following questions were asked by everyone: Will he show more power? If not, what if it drops off? What happens when his run total inevitably drops off? Is he really a near-400 OBP guy?

We’re at the point in the season where we can, with some certainty, say questions have been answered. As for Carpenter, the skeptics were right, for the most part.

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Carpenter’s been a good offensive player this season – his .349 wOBA ranks eight among third baseman; he grades out a little better at second – where you’re likely playing him – ranking fourth. He’s been a boon in average and on base percentage, although not quite as much as 2013 in the former. His strikeout rate is up a little, but so his walk rate, essentially evening the change out. No one swings less frequently than Carpenter; for the most part, that pays off. Good signs, everything above. As we know, though, it isn’t that simple.

  • Will He Show More Power? If not, what if it drops off?

Last season, Carpenter posted a .163 ISO, mostly in line with his minor league numbers. His ISO was buoyed by eleven home runs and a whopping 55 (!) doubles. But considering he doesn’t run, in order to earn his keep, Carpenter would need to at least keep his power at that level. He hasn’t done that, posting an ISO of .113 and only leaving the yard six times.

More times than not when someone’s power falls off they’re hitting fewer flyballs. Not in Carpenter’s case. His batted ball profile is basically unchanged; he’s actually hitting a few more balls in the air. His HR/FB has fallen one percent, though, which isn’t a huge deal, unless it’s falling from 6% to 5%. If he went from 19% to 18%, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Carpenter couldn’t afford to lose ground, and he has.

Carpenter doesn’t possess the ability to hit home runs to the opposite field; he has to pull the ball in order to leave the yard. The problem: he isn’t pull happy.

Year Matt Carpenter League Average
2013 0.321 0.269
2014 0.209 0.256

So far, Carpenter has been below average, according to ISO, when pulling the ball, after being well above the line last season. His decline is mostly because he isn’t pulling the ball in the air enough. Last season, 25% of the balls Carpenter hit in the air (flyballs + line drives) were pulled. This year, that number is 18%. Carpenter replaced pulled contact for a more all-field approach. The issue is, he was already spraying the ball everywhere, now he’s experiencing diminishing returns of some sort. Carpenter is pitched away more often than not, and that plays a part in all of this, but, for whatever reason, he isn’t pulling the ball with the same authority he showed last season.

  • What happens when his run total inevitably drops off?

The Cardinals were unconscious last season with runners in scoring position, posting a .370 wOBA in said situations. That was never going to be repeated. Twenty-four teams have been better than the Cardinals with runners in scoring position this season. Their wOBA as a team in these parts in the game is .294, a 76 point drop-off.

Despite the Cardinals’ struggles, Carpenter has still scored a ton of runs, the 18th most in the league, in fact. He’s projected to finish right around 95-100 runs scored; a more than respectable total. The issue is this: in order to make up for his lack of power, he has to really outdo his peers in the department. That hasn’t happened.

  • Is he really a near-400 OBP guy?

Not a lot to argue here. He’s posted a lower babip, which has brought his average and OBP down. But he’s still posting an OBP over .380, which slots him firmly in the top 15. You could do far worse in OBP leagues.

In average leagues, though, the drop off is more noticeable. In 2013, Carpenter’s .318 average ranked ninth. His .285 mark this season ranks 40th, still good, but a drop-off, nonetheless. Carpenter’s willingness to hit the ball the other way might diminish his power, but it definitely helps prop his babip up.

Carpenter didn’t have much room for error considering his draft position. Any bad luck would make it nearly impossible to live up to his price. He’s had some. Carpenter’s a fine player and a very good hitter. But he’s better suited for real life accolades. As of this writing, Carpenter has been the 143rd best fantasy play, according to ESPN; he ranks twelfth and eleventh at second and third base, respectively. Solid, but not what you were hoping for.

Anytime draft prices revolve around context driven numbers, we should always take a step back. Matt Carpenter’s given us more of a reason to do when we’re in this situation again.

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