If Matt Carpenter is known for anything in the major leagues, it’s for what hedoesn’t do: swing the bat. That may seem counterintuitive for a player generally considered to be one of the best hitters on one of baseball’s best teams, but it’s an accurate depiction of Carpenter’s approach at the plate. Last year, no qualified hitter offered at fewer pitches than Carpenter, who had only a 32.8 percent swing rate. Over the course of his three full seasons, his 36.1 percent swing rate is easily the lowest. In other words, approximately two times out of three, Carpenter watches the pitch go by.
To put it another way, some hitters swing at pitches outside the strike zone more often than Carpenter swings at pitches overall. It’s simply who he is, and it’s a large part of how he has managed to find success in the big leagues; over the past two seasons, he’s 15th in walk rate and ninth in on-base percentage. His patience has made him a star — he was one of only 15 hitters worth at least 10 WAR combined in 2013-14 — and it also has made him rich, as the Cardinals guaranteed him $52 million over six years through 2019.
With that kind of recent track record, it’s easy to think that Carpenter should just keep on doing exactly what he’s doing and continued success would follow. But despite the excellent on-base skills and overall value, a quiet truth of Carpenter’s 2014 was that his slugging percentage dropped more than 100 points from the year prior, and Carpenter turned from an elite bat into merely a good one. With an aging Cardinals offense relying more than ever on Carpenter this year, the numbers demand that Carpenter change his approach. Simply put, he has to swing more. He has to be, in some ways, the anti-Matt Carpenter. And he can start in Sunday night’s season opener (8 ET, ESPN2) against the Cubs. Read the rest of this entry »