How Did St. Louis Cardinals Leadoff Hitter Matt Carpenter Drive In So Many Runs in 2013?

Dilip Vishwanat

Matt Carpenter drove in more runs than Joey Votto last year, if you're into that sort of thing.

Matt Carpenter had a phenomenal 2013 season playing second base and primarily batting leadoff for the St. Louis Cardinals. If you were living in a rock during the 2013 season, you needn't take my word for it. Just look at his stats:

PA

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

fWAR

717

126*

199*

55*

7

11

78

.318

.392

.481

.873

.163

.381

147

7.0

*Led the league.

Carpenter was the table-setter for a Cardinals offense that led the NL in many categories, including runs scored. Given Carpenter's .392 OBP and his teammates' batting skill, it's no surprise he led the league in runs scored. He was the table-setter, the spark plug--all of the clichés about leadoff men (except for the ones that perpetuate the notion that leadoff men are necessarily speedy).

Carpenter was also a pretty good run-producer in 2013. I realize that in traditional baseball vernacular, "run producers" are the guys who bat in the middle of the order and drive in guys like Carpenter. With 137 RBI last year, Miggy Cabrera was a run producer. Chris Davis, with 138 RBI to his name, fit the run producer bill.

Leadoff hitters aren't "run producers" in the sense of that well-worn term of art. For one thing, they're guaranteed one PA per game with the bases empty. That ensures that they will have about 25% fewer chances to knock a run home.

Here's the thing, though, Carpenter notched 78 RBI. That was more than vaunted run producer Joey Votto, who drove in 73 Reds last year. It was only four fewer than all-universe shortstop, and the heart of Team Coors's order, Troy Tulowitzski. The St. Louis leadoff man knocked in runs at a level on par with players widely regarded as elite run producers.

69 of Carpenter's 78 RBI came while batting in the No. 1 spot. Only six players in the NL tallied 500 or more PAs in the No. 1 spot. With 52 runs knocked in, Shin-Soo Choo, the Texas Rangers' new $170 million outfielder, ranks second behind Carpenter in RBI from the No. 1 lineup spot. No other National League batter totaled even 40 RBI last year.

How badly the Cardinals' No. 8 and 9 batters hit last year makes Carpenter's RBI total all the more impressive. Redbird pitchers weren't very skilled with the bat last season, so the No. 9 slot overall managed a mere .205 OBP which placed fourth-worst in the NL. The No. 8 slot was regularly filled with the black-hole combination of Daniel Descalso and Pete Kozma and, as a resulted, managed a .290 OBP that was the fifth-worst in the NL.

So how did he do it? Carpenter amassed his impressive RBI total by doing what the Cards did so well as a whole last year: he hit really, really well with men on the bases. Here are his 2013 splits with the bases empty (Empty), men on base (MOB), and runners in scoring position (RISP):

Split

PA

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

ISO

wOBA

wRC+

Empty

494

128

39

3

9

9

.288

.358

.449

.808

.162

.356

130

MOB

223

71

16

4

2

69

.392

.468

.558

1.026

.166

.438

187

RISP

145

45

11

2

1

62

.388

.458

.543

1.001

.155

.425

178

Basically, with MOB in 2013, Carpenter batted like Ted Williams. With RISP, Carpenter hit at a level slightly better than Rogers Hornsby, Barry Bonds, or Mickey Mantle. To put it another way, this level of performance from Carpenter with ducks on the pond is unlikely to continue. Nonetheless, the Cards' white-hot batting with runners on base in 2013 was fun to watch. And it made Carpenter a run producer of sorts even though he was a leadoff man.

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