Coming off his incredible 2013 season, Matt Carpenter delivered again for the Cardinals even if he could not quite meet the standard he set the previous year. His .318/.392/.481 line dropped to .272/.375/.375 and his wRC+ dropped from 146 to 117. Carpenter's numbers were still solid and he put up a very good season worth around four wins. While Carpenter's average and on-base percentage dropped a little from 2013, it was his lack of power that caused Carpenter to go to an MVP-level season to one that was simply very good. Both Carpenter's walk rate and strikeout rate went up in 2014, opening up the possibility that Matt Carpenter was too patient at the plate in 2014.
In 2013, Carpenter had eleven home runs, seven triples, and 55 doubles for a total of 73 extra base hits. In 2014, that number almost dropped in half. He hit eight homers, two triples, and 33 doubles for just 43 extra base hits. In some ways, Carpenter was emblematic of the Cardinals struggle to score runs. There was nothing wrong with his production. He appeared to be doing his job, getting on base, and making positive contributions, but without the thump he delivered in 2013, his bat was a bit quieter.
Matt Carpenter has always been a very patient hitter. He sees a lot of pitches, draws a ton of walks, and that patient profile helped make him one of the better players in the game. In both 2012 and 2013, his walk rate was 10%. In 2013, he saw 4.12 pitches per plate appearance, 19th in all of baseball. He swung at just 11.7% of first pitches, seventh in the majors. Nearly 40% of the strikes against Matt Carpenter in 2013 were strikes looking, second in baseball.
Earlier in the offseason, Joe took a look at how the Cardinals were affected by called strikes out of strike zone, and showed Carpenter was affected negatively by out of zone calls. There is nothing wrong with Carpenter's batting eye. Despite striking out more, Carpenter's strikeout rate is still not high, ranking a comfortable 91st out of 146 qualified hitters. Of the players in the top ten in walk rate in 2014, Matt Carpenter's 15.7% strikeout rate was the lowest. Unfortunately, his power was also the lowest in the group. His .375 slugging percentage as well as his .103 isolated slugging were the lowest among the top ten in walk percentage.
Tying increased patience to a lack of power is difficult because Carpenter was already so patient. There is a correlation, but causation is the tricky part. Discussing Carpenter's lack of pop is not something generally concerning with a leadoff hitter who in his best year hit eleven home runs. However, in 2012 Carpenter had a .169 ISO and in his incredible 2013, it was .163. Those are not world-breaking numbers, but there is a big difference between a middle of the pack .163 and the bottom of the barrel .103 (121st out of 146) that Carpenter put up in 2014.
Here is a comparison of the statistics listed above from 2013 shown along with the same stats from 2014. (BB and K% from Fangraphs, P/PA from ESPN, 1st P swings and Taken Strikes/Strikes from Baseball Reference as well as this Fangraphs post).
|Matt Carpenter||BB%||K%||P/PA||1st P swings||Taken Strikes/Strikes|
As patient as Matt Carpenter was in 2013, he was even more discerning in 2014. His walk rate was sixth in the majors. His pitches per plate appearances was third. First-pitch swings was second, and strikes looking was first by more than five percent. The difference between Carpenter and second-place Brett Gardner was greater than the difference between Gardner and 16th place Christian Yelich.
While we are dealing with small samples when we move to plate appearances by count, we can note that the plate appearances earlier in the count diminished in 2014. Here is 2013 on the first two pitches (from Baseball-Reference):
Now here is 2014 on the first two pitches:
When dealing with the small number of plate appearances BABIP can fluctuate greatly. In total, there were 158 plate appearances above in 2013 with just 120 in 2014, the bulk of the difference in 0-0 and 1-0 counts. Carpenter has performed well when he is aggressive. He also does not like 0-2 counts. Out of 377 plate appearances with an 0-1 count in 2014, just 109 made it to 0-2.
In the 2014 playoffs, Carpenter found his power-stroke and hit four home runs and four doubles, singling just twice. As Drew Fairservice noted, Carpenter did a lot of damage on the first pitch in playoffs, hitting two of his home runs and a double on the first pitch. However, he retained his patient approach throughout the playoffs despite the outburst. During the postseason, he still saw 4.31 pitches per plate appearance. Carpenter took advantage of a few opportunities, but still managed to play his game.
Matt Carpenter is not going to become Matt Holliday or Yadier Molina when it comes to swinging at the first pitch, but it is possible that Carpenter became too passive in 2014. He does not need to hit home runs to be a great hitter. He does not even need to hit for power to be a good hitter, but we have seen what Carpenter can do when he gets a good pitch to hit. He might not ever reach back and find 2013 again, but if he could get a few more of those doubles back, it would be a big help to the Cardinals offense rebounding in 2015.