Just How Good Is St. Louis Cardinals Second Baseman Matt Carpenter? Really Good.

Dilip Vishwanat

St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter has put together a stupendous start to the season.

Last week, Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Cardinals manager Mike Matheny had high praise for Matt Carpenter:

"He has established himself as the best second baseman in the league," Matheny said. "The rest of the baseball world is overlooking what he's been able to do offensively and defensively, all the way around. He's been a difference-maker for us."

Goold wrote about where Carpenter's batting average (BA) and on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS) ranked amongst MLB second basemen at the time the article was published. Goold also noted where Carpenter's Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) placed him on the keystone leather spectrum (KLS). Today, I thought we might take a look at just how good Carpenter has been--not just compared to second basemen, but all position players.

MATT CARPENTER STATICAL RANKINGS (2B & MLB)

Statistic

Carpenter

2B Rank

MLB Rank

Runs

52

1st

3rd

RBI

25

10th

115th

HR

5

11th

145th

2B

19

3rd

17th

3B

2

2nd

23rd

XBH

26

2nd

38th

BA

.320

3rd

11th

OBP

.405

1st

7th

SLG

.467

3rd

49th

ISO*

.147

7th

97th

OPS

.873

1st

27th

wOBA*

.383

1st

14th

wRC+*

147

1st

13th

fWAR*

3.5

1st

8th

*ISO, wOBA, wRC+, and fWAR ranks are as of the completion of play on Saturday, June 15, 2013.

Runs and RBI are two stats that as much dependent on the batters in front of and behind a player in the lineup as the player himself. Carpenter is a great example of this. The Texan has settled into the leadoff spot for the Cardinals, a spot that guarantees at least one plate appearance per game (PA) will occur with no one on base in front of him. After the first inning, Carpenter digs in after the pitcher's spot and, typically, Pete Kozma. Consequently, his opportunities with men on base (91 PA) are lesser than, say, Allen Craig (134 PA).

While Carpenter may not get as many opportunities to drive runs in due to batting leadoff, his excellent plate approach makes him a great table-setter for his teammates. Carpenter has walked in over 10% of his PAs this year. Couple his plate discipline with his skill at barreling the baseball and, with the likes of Carlos Beltran, Matt Holliday, Craig, and Yadier Molina following him in the order, Carpenter has crossed home plate the third highest number of times in MLB this season--trailing only Miguel Cabrera and Carlos Gonzalez. (Batting in front of Craig and Molina, Holliday has tied Carpenter with 52 runs scored this year.)

Looking at the stat of wOBA, Carpenter is batting fantastically. OPS gives us an idea of how a batter does at getting on base and hitting for power; however, it gives one point of OBP the same value as one point of SLG. This isn't proper. In reality, a point of OBP is worth more than a point of SLG. Carpenter, whose ability to hit for power is lacking compared to his ability to get on base, gets a jolt from wOBA's proper weighting. Looking at his overall MLB offensive ranks, we see this difference in weighting manifested. Carpenter's OPS ranks 27th in MLB, which is quite good. However, in wOBA (which properly weights his skill at getting on base), Carpenter ranks 14th in all of baseball.

wRC+ is one of my favorite stats. Like wOBA, it properly weights a player's ability to get on the base paths, but it also adjusts a player's production for park effects. This makes intuitive sense because good offensive production in a pitcher-friendly park like Busch Stadium is more impressive than good offensive production in a hitter's paradise like Coors Field.

In the case of Carpenter, wRC+ provides more evidence of his excellent season to date. Once again, Carpenter ranks above his fellow second basemen. His 149 wRC+ is nine points ahead of second place Howie Kendrick, 12 points ahead of third place Marco Scutaro, 19 points ahead of fourth place Robinson Cano, and 20 points ahead of fifth place Dustin Pedroia. Carpenter, Kendrick, and Scutaro all play in pitcher-friendly home parks while Cano and Pedroia play their home games in batter havens. Overall, Carpenter ranks 13th in all of baseball in wRC+ and ahead of sluggers like Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, who play their home games in hitter-friendly stadiums.

Fangraphs WAR (fWAR) reflects Matheny's comment more than any other stat because it takes into account a player's batting, baserunning, and fielding. fWAR's fielding component is Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR). For what it's worth two and a half months into a season, by UZR, Carpenter has been the best fielding second baseman in MLB so far this year. Throw in Carpenter's position-best and top-15 offensive production and the Cardinals have themselves something more than a stop-gap at second base who is keeping the keystone warm for Kolten Wong. The Redbirds have themselves an All-Star and, perhaps, a Most Valuable Player candidate.

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