Matt Carpenter was one of the breakout performers of 2013, but he has started slowly this year. His average, slugging and on-base percentage are all down, and mostly due to his high strikeout numbers.
The Cardinals’ third baseman is hitting .265, a 53 point drop off from his 2013 career high, and slugging a lowly .324, a 157 point drop off from his 2013 career high. Carpenter has struck out 38 times, and is projected to have 112 on the season. For Carpenter, these numbers are concerning, but they don’t tell the whole story.
Carpenter has a high value because of his understanding of the strike zone. He is fifth in MLB in Fangraphs’ O-Swing% (the Percentage of pitches a batter swings at outside the strike zone) and the number could be even better. According to an article by Brian Stull of stlbaseballweekly.com, Carpenter has been mistakenly called for more strikes than any other player in baseball.
As of May 16th, Carpenter led the Majors in called strikes that were out of the zone based on research by Michael Augustine, the editor-in-chief of BehindInTheCount.com. According to those numbers, Carpenter had correctly laid off 75 pitches that were erroneously called a strike. Shin-Soo Choo was next with 65 and Joey Votto had the second most in the NL with 58.
As a result of the inconsistent strike zone, Carpenter has struck out looking 15 times. Many of them have been good calls, but sometimes he gets rung up on pitches like this. With a more consistent strike zone Carpenter could have a higher OBP and batting average.
His .371 OBP is the silver lining of his season, and his plate discipline numbers will keep it that way. As I already stated, he has an elite batting eye but he also has a 95.1 Z-contact% (Percentage of times a batter makes contact with the ball when swinging at pitches thrown inside the strike zone) and the lowest swing percent in baseball, 33.5. If Carpenter keeps going like he is, a more consistent strike zone could return him to his All-Star level play.
The Cardinals rely heavily on Carpenter to start the offense. In 2013 he scored 126 runs and drove in 78 more. The Cardinals’ offense has scuffled in the first 44 games of the season, but they are 16-9 in games when Carpenter scores a run. If the Cardinals’ lead off man can set the table for a lineup full of proven RBI guys, the Cardinals might be able to take off in the coming weeks.