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It Doesn’t Matter Where Matt Carpenter Hits In the Lineup, But Right Now It’s OK to Shake It Up

If Matt Carpenter is swinging the bat with precision, you could pick a lineup out of a hat and slot him anywhere. Doesn’t matter. You could fly him to the moon and he’d deposit home runs into lunar orbit and draw walks from alien pitchers.

If Carpenter’s swing is malfunctioning, as was the case in recent times, he’s like any slumping hitter: you could pick any number in the lineup and put him there. And it wouldn’t matter. The results would be poor.

Manager Mike Matheny gave leadoff man Dexter Fowler the night off on Wednesday when the Cardinals embarrassed themselves again with a 6-4 loss to the Cincinnati Reds. Carpenter batted leadoff, returning to his familiar spot atop to the Cards lineup.

This of course set off widespread spasms among the faithful, and I thought some of my favorite fans would require a defibrillator. Because if there is one thing we all love to do, it is to pretend that certain players are psychologically damaged, incapable of performing, and basically useless to the team and the society at large if they’re moved out of a customary lineup spot.

Fowler did come off the bench to shoot an RBI double into the gap to extend the visitor’s lead to 4-1, and Carpenter had a nice game, hitting his 10th homer of the season and later drawing a walk.

See!

Carpenter must bat first!

Um, no. Not really.

As Carpenter told Jen Langosch of MLB.com and other media before the game: “I don’t want this to become the narrative – if I go out and get four hits today that, ‘OK, he’s the leadoff hitter.’  ”

Through his MLB career Carpenter absolutely has delivered the goods as a leadoff hitter. He’s been one of the best., with a .387 onbase percentage and .486 slug (.873 OPS) on the rung. If Matheny wants to use Carpenter at leadoff, then use him at leadoff.

It isn’t about Carpenter’s place in the lineup.

It’s about the placement of his swing.

As Carpenter told Langosch mechanical flaws have negatively affected his launch angle. And as Langosch helpfully explained, Carpenter’s off-kilter swing has caused a significant increase in pop-ups.

When his swing is right — again — Carpenter’s address in Matheny’s lineup is irrelevant. Carpenter’s numbers as the No. 3 hitter this season are below his overall career standards, but it isn’t because his head wires are tangled when batting third or second.

Between April 20 and May 14, Carpenter had a .441 OBP, .648 slugging percentage, and 1.089 OPS as a No. 3 hitter. The splurge over 93 plate appearances featured four doubles, a triple, seven homers, 20 RBIs.

Wait a minute.  I thought Carpenter’s mind was discombobulated by his new residency in the lineup?

If that’s true, why did he massacre pitching over that three-week stretch?

The idea that Carpenter metaphorically breaks out on in a rash as a non-leadoff man is ludicrous and an insult to him.

“Struggles are struggles,” Carpenter told reporters in Cincinnati. “I had a stretch where I was hitting really well in the three-hole, but I hit a funk. (I’m) trying to find my way.”

So what’s Matheny’s plan?

For Thursday’s day game at Cincinnati, Matheny has Carpenter leading off and Fowler batting second.

Fowler has 3,264 career plate appearances as a leadoff hitter. He’s batted elsewhere in the lineup, wit the No. 2 spot as the most frequently used alternative (769 PA.) I think it’s silly to relocate Fowler from his post at leadoff.

First of all, he has a career .364 OBP at No. 1.

And he can supply power there.

Second, Fowler’s overall season numbers are disappointing, but for some reason few have noticed that his recent offensive trend is good. In 40 games and 161 plate appearances since April 19, Fowler has a .360 OBP and has slugged .540 for a .900 OPS. And he ‘s done this while dealing with a shoulder injury. In other words: he’s Dexter Fowler. He’s done nothing to warrant a bump from the No. 1 line on Matheny’s card.

This is fascinating.

If Matheny moves Carpenter to his former lineup chute, batting him first, the manager would essentially be agreeing with the theory that Carpenter is mentally soft and can’t deal with being transferred from the No. 1 spot . That Carpenter is a fragile snowflake. Which, of course, is 100 percent wrong.

These are desperate times for the Cardinals. The offense is dozing, having scored only 7 total runs in the first three games at Cincinnati. If Matheny wants to remix the lineup, fine. Shaking things up, if ever so briefly, might loosen an uptight, pressing team.

I usually would bark about something like this. But my goodness, I understand why Matheny wants to try something …  anything …  to awaken this offense.

Heck, Matheny can even do what Billy Martin did when managing the Tigers and later the Yankees. With his teams stuck in a dire slumps, Martin picked his lineup out of his baseball cap several times — and actually won games. Even with light-hitting shortstop Eddie Brinkman — career .300 slugging pct. — drawing the cleanup spot from the Martin’s hat one day.

That said, I won’t back away from this opinion: if Matt Carpenter’s hitting mechanics are aligned, you can put him anywhere and get positive results. He isn’t a head case. He doesn’t need a psychiatrist. He just needs to be his own swing doctor and find a cure. And he will. I hope the new lineup format works. If it does … well, an advance tip of the cap to the skipper.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More: MLB Is Having Another Home-Run Derby Season and the Cardinals Aren’t Participating

  • flood21

    If you believe that MM could just pick names out of a hat, then you should have no problem with Carp batting 1st and Fowler 2nd. Might be just the fix needed to get both of these guys going. What bothers me more is that the Molina rule of him having to bat 3,4, or 5 is in effect again today.

    • rightthinker4

      I agree 100%. With you, not Bernie!

  • Tony Blanco

    I am no hitting guru, but it seems to me that Carpenters swing has gotten longer. It looks like he is dropping his back shoulder and really dragging the bat and making this looping, long swing. I don’t know if this is the result of him trying to hit for more power or what it is but it is noticeable.

    • flood21

      These are things one has to do to improve launch angle. Some players just aren’t built for for launch angle and it probably won’t be long before Carp lands on the DL. Nothing more exciting than watching hitters go up to plate with the goal of getting a walk.

  • James Berry

    I’m gonna say something that won’t be popular with the Goldenboy fan sect. He saw Fowler struggling and decided to tank his ABs to get back as the lead off hitter. He only wants to hit lead off. He’s said as much through the years. Oh sure, he’ll spew out the required “I’ll hit anywhere to help the team win”, but it’s just lip service. He believes he’s entitled to far too much say on this team.

    When he’s gone from this team, that will be a happy day for me.

  • BradW

    I believe it is fairly well known that a batter hitting lead-off is pitched differently than a batter hitting in the 3 or 4 spot with RISP. There also has to be more pressure on that 3 or 4 hole hitter to produce with RISP. Those are both factors that can affect hitting in those spots. By allowing Carp to hit in a less pressure-filled spot and get pitched differently may allow him to relax or get back in the groove. I don’t think this is about Fowler, who has playing well since mid-April. I think this is about getting the most proven dangerous hitter on the team right again. Carp should drive the offense, if right. I believe MM has made the right move, but there is no guarantee.

  • tannerl91

    Could it be that batting Matt Carpenter third, a spot in the lineup that is typically known for hitting with significantly more power than the leadoff man, is causing him to make adjustments to his swing that might feel unnatural to him? Hitting mechanics and mentality aren’t mutually exclusive. I think your best slugging percentage guys belongs in the 3,4,5 slots, depending on lefty-righty match-ups. That would be Gyorko, Pham, and Piscotty. I’d bat Fowler 9th to create more run-scoring opportunities at the top of the order later in the game. Diaz or Wong both have potential to be great 2-hole hitters, they could also alternate depending on LH/RH pitcher.

  • ken

    batting order is SO incredibly overrated.

  • Ed Hamilton

    I agree with you James. I have never understood the media and fan base’s love affair with Carp. You would think he was a lifetime 300 hitter averaging 30 hrs a season, the way he is treated. He is very streaky as a hitter, he is hurt more than he is healthy. But if the team continues to tank, and the cards become sellers at the trade deadline, they won’t get rid of the golden boy.

  • Richard Craig Friedman

    What can I say, I got my degree in psychiatry at Trump University!

  • Anti ruling class

    The contrarian perspective I guess. Paraphrasing Dan Quayle, it’s a terrible thing to lose one’s mind.

  • M W

    How’s that average with RISP Bernie? Didn’t see that in your column.
    You can cherry pick stats if you want. I’ll go ahead and pay attention to the entire season and he’s killing the team batting 3rd. It’s not working.

  • rightthinker4

    Carpenter is a lead off hitter. Sure he’s going to say he doesn’t mind hitting in the third spot. What would you expect him to say? No, I’m a lead off hitter. I don’t like hitting third. I believe Carpenter is a mental person. He thinks and over thinks, at least when it comes to baseball. He doesn’t have slumps. A slump is 0-15, or 1-18. He will go 20-100! He’s starting to hit, now that he’s back in the lead off spot. It’s the spot he wants to be in, where he has had the most success at, offensively speaking. Defensively, it doesn’t matter where he hits. He’s not good!

  • JeremyR

    No matter how much people say it doesn’t matter, Carpenter hits in the #1 spot and doesn’t when he hits elsewhere.

    At some point people have to concede the obvious.

    Beyond that, I still get understand why Fowler is a better #1 guy. He’s not particularly fast. His OBP is generally very good, but inferior to Carpenter. He does have less power than Carpenter

  • Mark Lee Arbogast

    I’m retired so I don’t Listen to the drive time audio anymore but I tuned in the other day for 15 minutes and listened to Bernie wind himself up into a froth berating and making fun of those whose opinion of Carp batting leadoff differed from his. Seems nothing has changed on the radio.