He may not have been the first to say it, but during the press blitz before Batman Begins, Christopher Nolan called Batman “just a guy who did a lot of pushups.” That struck me as an artful way to describe the appeal of Batman: An ordinary guy who made himself a superhero.
It’s also the reason I love Matt Carpenter.
Calling any professional athlete an “ordinary guy” would be ridiculous, but Carpenter was closer than most: A 13th round draft pick, the 399th player selected. He signed for just a $1,000 bonus as a 5th-year senior out of TCU. He never cracked even MLB.com’s Top 20 list of Cardinals prospects.
Carpenter is not Aaron Judge - who could well be mistaken for a super hero - dazzling fans with towering home runs that touch 120mph. Carpenter’s peak exit velocity is only in the 35th percentile of all MLB hitters.
What makes Carpenter so remarkable is not just this “from humble beginnings,” “didn’t pass the eye test” stuff. There have been other players who were drafted late and didn’t exactly jump off the scouting pages who went on to very good careers.
But I don’t know that I’ve ever seen another player who so clearly worked to mold himself into a big leaguer, then continued to mold himself into a better and better player.
I wrote back in 2016 about the ever-evolving versions of Matt Carpenter. He himself talked openly at the time about trying to combine his various iterations: The high OBP doubles-machine, the surprising power guy, the dead-pull hitter, the sprays-it-all-over guy. And despite many offseason proclamations that the team will find him a permanent defensive home, they continue to lean on Carpenter’s positional versatility.
Jeff Sullivan wrote a great piece yesterday about what makes 2018 Matt Carpenter the best version we’ve seen yet. I encourage you to read about the nuances of what he’s is doing right now, but for my purposes, what really matters is that he is still making changes and still making himself better.
That even appears to extend to Carpenter’s defense. While he’s been versatile throughout his career, he hasn’t been especially good. He hasn’t posted positive value as a defender since 2013, but he’s on his way there in 2018. His Defensive Runs Saved numbers at both first and third are the best of his career.
Normally, I’d caution that it’s foolish to put stock in a partial season of defensive numbers. But with Matt Carpenter: I believe. Matt Carpenter is a player who will do the push-ups and make himself into whatever he needs to be.
I was not a devoted comic book reader or super hero fanatic as a kid, but I always loved Batman. I loved him for the big, sappy, obvious reason that Chris Nolan eluded to. Batman could do anything, not because he was an alien or exposed to radiation, but because he took a shitload of judo classes and read a bunch of science books.
It’s straight-up, American Dream mythology. It’s a childish way to look at the world. But even as a Grown Ass Man, I can’t help but feel the same way about Matt Carpenter. I think that’s okay. I mean, if we’re all going to spend our evenings watching other grown men play a child’s game, I think we can be forgiven a little childlike wonder now and then.
I’ve been watching baseball long enough that the top prospects now are the kids of guys whose entire careers I watched. I can’t think of another player I’ve seen who has molded himself - through sheer force of will - into a big leaguer, an All-Star, and then an MVP, not just by improving on one elite skill, but by constantly evolving.
Matt Carpenter can do anything. Matt Carpenter is Batman.