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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’