Since becoming a true full-time player in 2013, St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter has struck out a total of 360 times, the 39th most in all of Major League Baseball. Now, one must acknowledge that this relatively high ranking is largely inflated by the fact that Carpenter, batting out of the leadoff spot in 69.1% of his career plate appearances, has accumulated the third most PAs (2,091) during that span. Even further, Carpenter's strikeout rate of 17.2% is nowhere near the wrong end of the leaderboard at #132 and is significantly lower than the non-pitcher league averages during those seasons.
Regardless, the topic of strikeouts has seemingly always been common when discussing the two-time All-Star over the last three seasons. Not surprisingly, it is usually narrative based. "Carpenter just enjoys hitting with two strikes" is used frequently. The same goes for "Carpenter probably has a better eye for the strike zone than most umpires." Finally, the notion that Carpenter faces more pitches than nearly every MLB batter. Unlike the first two, this one, honestly, is not really a narrative considering it is backed by statistics (fifth most per plate appearance in 2015, third most in 2014, and 19th most in 2013).
In terms of overall production, Carpenter was his best at the plate in 2013 (146 wRC+), saw a dip in performance (but was still well above average) in 2014 (117 wRC+) , and then returned to near-2013 form last season (139 wRC+). Thus, while Carpenter struck out much more frequently last season than in the past (36% increase from 2014, 54% increase from 2013), it does not seem to have had a negative effect on his overall performance, likely buoyed, in part, by a spike in isolated power (.233 in 2015, up from .103 in 2014 and .163 in 2013).
After clicking through each year's pie chart, you will see that Carpenter had nearly as many swinging strikeouts in 2015 as he had total strikeouts in 2014. From a "piece of the pie" standpoint, 2015 was Carpenter's biggest year for swinging strikeouts as well, at 70.86%.
As I wrote early last season, Carpenter and Matt Holliday were "battling" the strike zones of home plate umpires. I admit the entrance into "narrative" territory here, but a possible hypothesis surrounding the increase in frequency of swinging strikeouts could be Carpenter growing tired of leaving borderline strike three calls up to the home plate umpire, instead taking the outcomes of these pitches into his own hands. Sure enough, after completing a handy PitchF/x search on BaseballSavant.com, Carpenter had more swinging strikes on pitches out of the zone with two strikes in 2015 (62) than basically his combined total from 2013 and 2014 (66).
Strikeout Type PLUS Location
Strikeouts By Umpire, 2013-2015
|Four tied with...||7|
|Four tied with...||6|
|17 tied with...||5|
|10 tied with...||4|
|14 tied with...||3|
|13 tied with...||2|
|13 tied with...||1|
As of March 2015, there are 99 umpires listed on MLB.com's roster. Based on an average of three games per series (54 series in a 162 game season) and four umpires per crew (25 crews), Carpenter and the Cardinals should, theoretically, deal with each umpiring crew two to three series per season. Given an average of five plate appearances per game, Carpenter could face a specific home plate umpire up to 15 times in a season (or 45 times over three seasons).
Please know that this is a very rough estimate because I am not at all familiar with the season-long rotation of umpiring crews by MLB. Do crews tend to stick together for an entire season? For this post, I assumed that this was the case. With four umpires per crew and my estimation of three games per series, not every umpire will get a chance to call balls and strikes in every series. Plus, if one umpire rates better on the accuracy of balls and strikes, does this umpire receive more home plate assignments than his or her coworkers?
Either way, using 45 plate appearances over three seasons and a strikeout rate of 17.2% during that time, Carpenter should have between seven and eight strikeouts per umpire faced. Obviously, the pitcher matters as well (and here is how Carpenter has fared against individual pitchers during his career), but I was more interested in seeing if any given umpire stood out from the rest. While I cannot determine the significance, from a purely descriptive standpoint, Tim Timmons, Vic Carapazza, and Phil Cuzzi led the way with 11 strikeouts apiece since 2013.
As Ben Markham already wrote back in December 2015, Matt Carpenter is "ever changing" as hitter. Despite noticeable changes each season, Carpenter has remained a good hitter. Thus, while his increase in strikeouts is worth keeping an eye on, and honestly, more importantly, his increase in swinging and missing overall, it will not necessarily matter if the contact he does make remains as potent as it was last season. I don't intend to compare Carpenter's hit tool to that of Mike Trout, but the 24-year-old, also known as the best player in baseball, strikes out 22.5% of the time. Ideally, Carpenter will cut down on his out-of-the-zone swinging, particularly with two strikes, but it doesn't appear to have affected him last season.
I look forward to seeing what type of hitter Matt Carpenter is in 2016. I project he will be a good one, once again, though I have no idea what process he will take to get there.
I miss baseball.
If interested, here is a link to the data spreadsheet I compiled.
Late addition: For those wondering, I believe the following heatmap documents the called strike that made Carpenter quite irate with Chris Segal. Segal tried very hard.