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Matt Carpenter Batting Leadoff? You Win. I Surrender. It’s The Right Thing To Do

The idea that Matt Carpenter needs to bat leadoff to find his mojo is absurd. But you know what? Life is filled with absurdities. So you just have to roll with it.

Really, this makes no sense.

Carpenter knows how to finesse counts, make pitchers work, get on base, and hit with power. He can do that from any post in the lineup. It’s not as if he eats a pile of spinach to make his body healthy and strong each time he bats No. 1.  And Carpenter went on a nearly three-week rampage earlier this season and didn’t hit No. 1 at any time. We’ve also seen him go into deep-hibernation slumps as the leadoff man.

I’m still rather stubborn about this. I  don’t believe that Carpenter’s nerves go haywire or that his brain turns into a poached egg, or that he feels a sudden urge to rush to the bathroom when manager Mike Matheny has him hitting elsewhere in the lineup, away from No. 1. As I wrote recently, it’s really an insult to Carpenter to basically label him a head case, just because he doesn’t produce as well when he bats 2nd or 3rd in the lineup.

I’ve been a holdout on this. I refused to concede.

Until now.

After seeing yet another M-Carp resurgence after his transfer to the leadoff …

Y’all win. You got me.

I surrender. I give up.

Here’s why: if it’s working, then don’t question it.

This is a lame example, but I present it only because I suppose I understand this weird Carpenter thing in a way… when I played high school basketball, I had a very good jump shot from the left base line, or left corner. My shooting was so accurate from those two spots, the coach ran a play for me … he called it “McMillen.” (In honor of a long-ago U. of Maryland player, Tom McMillen, who had a superb jump shot from the corner.)

When coach shouted “McMillen” I’d get excited. I anticipated success.

However …

My shooting was pretty much awful from other areas on the floor — even the right base line, and the right corner. Why? If I’m shooting a jumper from the left base line or corner, what the hell difference does it make if I’m triggering the same shot from the opposite side of the basket? Makes no sense.

I guess it was just a matter of confidence, comfort, and knowing that I had my own personal sweet spot. It’s goofy  … but again, if it works, then go with it. Don’t fry your brain cells. Just listen for “McMillen” and knock down that jumper.

Since Matheny moved Carpenter to the top line of the card seven games ago, Carpenter has made 30 plate appearances and reached base 13 times, or 43.3 percent. He’s smoked four doubles, three homers, knocked in eight runs, and scored six. He has 11 hits. His slugging percentage is .857. His OPS is 1.290.

Carpenter stepped back in to the No. 1 spot and, with the ease of a man stepping into a pair of his most relaxing, comfortable shoes.  It’s a wonderful fit.

It just feels right.

And no scientific or sabermetric explanation is necessary.

Here’s the breakdown of Carpenter’s MLB career.

Let’s a take a look at the difference between Carpenter batting No. 1 in the Cards’ lineup compared to what he does in all other lineup spots combined:

Leadoff:   2,235 plate appearances … Elsewhere:  1,034 PA

Leadoff:  Batting average, .296 average …. Elsewhere: .245  BA

Leadoff:  .387 onbase percentage … Elsewhere:  .346 OBP

Leadoff:  .490 slugging percentage … Elsewhere:  .400  SLG

Leadoff:  .877 OPS …  Elsewhere:  .746 OPS

Leadoff:  homer every 30 at-bats … Elsewhere: homer every 36 ABs.

Leadoff: Park-adjusted created runs, 43% above average… Elsewhere: 5% above average.

To recap, shorthand version:  Carpenter’s batting average is 51 points higher at leadoff compared to other places … his OBP is 41 percent higher … his SLG is 90 points higher … his OPS is 131 points higher … his park-adjusted overall offense is  38 percent better.

Goodness, Carpenter even has much better batted-ball luck when he bats leadoff (.338) compared to the .292 average on balls in play when Matheny writes him into another lineup hole.

By the way, here are the two best park-adjusted runs created leaders for MLB leadoff hitters since 2011, with a minimum 2,000 plate appearances at No. 1:

Matt Carpenter, 143 wRC+,   43 percent above average.

Dexter Fowler, 116 wRC+,    16 percent above average.

Fowler has extended his on-fire hitting after moving to No. 2 to accommodate Carpenter’s return to No. 1. In the seven games since Matheny’s switch, Fowler is batting .400 with a 1.155 OPS, three doubles, a big game-winning homer, six RBIs, and three runs.

Over his last 46 games, Fowler is batting .276 with a .368 OBP, .551 SLG, .919 OPS, nine homers, 21 extra-base hits, 27 runs, 26 RBIs.

The Cardinals are top-loaded with two special leadoff that possess proven OBP skill and power.

It’s just that they’re lined up differently than we expected.

But it’s all good. No more whining from me.

Well, at least until I write “Part Two” to this column … look for it later today, but soon.

Until then…

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More: Update: Dexter Fowler Is Hitting. A Bunch. So Stop Saying He ‘Needs to Get Going’

  • Richard Craig Friedman

    I called Carp a head case. Bernie agrees now and has the stats to back it up. As a conspiracy theorist and proud Trump University psychiatry graduate I must ask why and how long has Bernie been suppressing these stats.

    • Jim Lahey

      Man, that is hilarious. Kudos.

      • Richard Craig Friedman

        Thanks.

    • JDinSTL

      Now, get Bernard to actually support a Republican somewhere and we’re for certain in the end times.

  • flood21

    I guess this means you won’t be accepting my beer bet Bernie?

  • Christopher Toth

    No need to overthink this. In real life it’s called a comfort zone and try as we might, some intangibles elude rational explanation.

  • rightthinker4

    Right now, Carpenter is hitting well in the leadoff spot. Hope Matheny leaves him there. It doesn’t seem to bother Fowler where he hits so leave him in the 2 spot. Now only 6 other spots to take care of.

    • flood21

      Good point thinker. Especially true for 3,4, and 5. The Molina rule of Yadi having to bat in the 3,4, or 5, hole fixes one of those spots just not very well. A .250 Ave. with 12 homers and 60 RBIs does not excite me, but MO and MM seem to be satisfied with it.

  • James Berry

    I’ll say what i have been saying for some time now. Unlike Bernie, i shall not waver and give in.

    First, a player that can only be successful batting in one spot in the order, with very limited defensive skills and horrible base running skill, is not a player i’d want on my team. Carpenter is not versatile by any means. Don’t give me the tired old, “He can play 2nd or 3rd as well” malarkey. He has played there, but saying he can play there can be said of just about anyone. That doesn’t mean they should.

    Second, i believe Carpenter tanked to get back to hitting lead off. Whether it was conscience or sub-conscience on his part is up for debate. Carpenter’s swing miraculously recovered as soon as he was put back at lead off. OBP is not just a lead off hitter’s stat. It is desired throughout a lineup. Most number 3 hitters, worth their salt, have very high OBPs.

    Matt Holliday has a career .382 OBP
    Albert Pujols has a career .390 OBP
    Mike Trout has a career .408 OBP
    Edgar Martinez had a career .418 OBP
    John Olerud had a career .398 OBP

    Sure, OBP is essential as a lead off hitter. but speed is nice as well. Clogging up the bases is reserved for power hitters, and Carpenter has become more power oriented.

  • ken

    let’s just take that idea to its further logical point…the constant arguing and fussing over where MOST players bat in the batting order is absurd. period.

  • BradW

    He better start hitting, or it may look like we traded the wrong 1B at the end of the season. Adams is raking.