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Matt Carpenter continues leadoff tear

And here is a theory as to why this is the case...

MLB: St. Louis Cardinals at Cincinnati Reds David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

It is not easy finding positives about a team that has posted a record of 31-37, but here we are with the 2017 St. Louis Cardinals. Heck, Alex, frustrated and mentally unable to write about the current team (this is an assumption, largely made in jest), instead looked back at how the organization ranks from 1995 through 2016. Well, since returning to the leadoff spot on June 7th, Matt Carpenter has been on an absolute tear — slashing .405/.528/.857 over 53 plate appearances. His 251 wRC+ during this time is fifth best in all of baseball (and Dexter Fowler isn’t too far behind at 245). Yes, John wrote about this three days ago, and Alex touched on it at the beginning of last week as well. But as I said in the opening, positives are hard to come by right now, and I feel like writing a positive post.

First and foremost, it must be noted that we are still talking about only 53 plate appearances. Despite struggling overall at other spots in the lineup, I am sure one can find a string of at least 53 plate appearances in which Carpenter hit well. Yet, Carpenter is one of the best hitters in baseball right now, along with Fowler, as stated above. Other than being moved to the top of the lineup, what has changed? Before we get to that, let’s look at some related Statcast numbers, via

Matt Carpenter, 2017

Time Frame Pitches Tracked Launch Angle Exit Velocity Estimated Swing Speed Barrels
Time Frame Pitches Tracked Launch Angle Exit Velocity Estimated Swing Speed Barrels
Pre-Leadoff 985 21.9° 89.2 MPH 61.1 MPH 13
As Leadoff 252 21.2° 94.7 MPH 64.5 MPH 9

As you can see, Carpenter is hitting the ball harder, swinging the bat faster, and making more barreled contact since being moved back to the leadoff spot. I don’t know what to make of the faster swing speed, but after all it’s still only estimated (as far as I know, MLB isn’t going to pay to have sensors installed inside all of its players’ bats), so I’m not quite sure of its reliability. That being said, the amount of barreled contact (the metric “barrel” is explained here) is most impressive as he is ~64% (9/14) of the way to his pre-leadoff number despite facing only ~26% (252/985) of the total pitches.

The easy answer to Carpenter’s recent success is settling on the classification that he is a better hitter out of the leadoff spot. While Carpenter has said in the past that he doesn’t change his approach based on his spot in the order, it’s clear he experiences the most success batting first. With the amount of data made available to us (and much more still behind closed doors), I do my best to avoid “settling.”

And something I had picked up on during a Carpenter funk earlier this season was what I believed to be him standing further from home plate. In fact, I asked @cardinalsgifs make the following GIF before Carpenter began his current tear, in an attempt to hopefully diagnose the problem. I don’t consider myself to be a hitting mechanics expert, but it doesn’t take a trained eye to notice the difference between the two swings:

High-sock Carpenter is from earlier this season, and long-pant Carpenter is from 2016. Though the 2017 pitch comes from a lefty and the 2016 one a righty, the two landed in a similar part of the zone (down and away), and both possessed a low-90’s velocity. Keeping this in mind, the swings should be fairly similar, and as you can see, they are. However, the difference between solid, line-drive contact and weak on-the-ground contact is by timing and contact location on the bat. Both timing and contact location can be affected by how the distance Carpenter is standing away from home plate. When he was standing closer to the plate (the difference is obvious in the overlay), he made better contact.

But Joe, you realize you’re comparing a pre-leadoff 2017 swing to a swing from 2016, what does this have to do with how he is hitting right now? Well, from what I can tell after watching nearly every home plate appearance (versus lefties and righties) since moving back to the leadoff spot, Carpenter has moved his starting point closer to home plate, similar to what we see in the 2016 swing detailed above. This is a good move considering pitchers are attacking him even further away since June 7th:

Unfortunately, I was unable to get another GIF to show the difference, but here are a couple screenshots from his stance in games since returning to the leadoff spot, with the ground out swing included as a comparator. Since the chalk lines had already been kicked away, take a look at where Carpenter’s head lands on the BUSCH STADIUM bricks. The difference is noticeable:

Whether this difference in starting point is significant, I do not know, but given how hot Carpenter has been over the last 12 games, I am not about to complain. Here’s to hoping the rest of his teammates can begin helping Fowler and him out. Otherwise, it’s probably time to sell, whatever they can, at least.

Credit to @cardinalsgifs, as usual. Follow him.