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Trade Matt Carpenter? Great Idea … If You Hate High OBP and Power

Trade Matt Carpenter?

I don’t know when this became a thing.

But it began long before Casey Stern of MLB Network radio disparaged Carpenter on the Kevin Wheeler Show earlier this week.

Carpenter is hurting the Cardinals, Stern said. He should be in the American League. Trade him.

I don’t think so, Casey my friend.

What Stern said was nothing new. He sounded like one of the increasing number of Cardinals fans that have turned on Carpenter for reasons that are based on … well, something.

Something other than logic.

If I may clarify …  for all of the good folks who want to deal Carpenter, I just need you to answer a question: if Carpenter is traded, what’s coming back in return? I’m not opposed to trading any Cardinal. Each and every one them should be available for the right price. I just need to know what the Cards are receiving in return before I can agree or disagree with the idea of moving him.

I’m really not sure what this is all about.

Why so many (seemingly) in the BFIB have gone from whining about Carpenter being “underrated” nationally to caterwauling about M-Carp being an overrated trade piece that must be marked down and cleared out like he’s a couch that’s been on the showroom floor of a furniture store for too long.

I think at least some of this has to do with Carpenter being the Cardinals’ best hitter over several seasons. When the team is successful, the top guys are baseball heroes. But when the team struggles and fails to make the playoffs two two consecutive seasons (2016, 2017) the top players  are to blame. They’re letting us down.

Some of this is flat-out nuts. Media people and fans are clamoring for Eric Hosmer and would pay him $150 million, or $175 million or whatever agent Scott Boras demands.

Sign Hosmer!!!

Make room for Hosmer by trading Carpenter!

Good plan. Spend $125 million, $150 million or $175 million on a first baseman, Hosmer, who hasn’t come close to matching Carpenter’s value during their respective careers.

Hosmer came to the majors (Kansas City) to stay in 2011.

After a brief call-up in 2011, Carpenter was promoted by the Cardinals to stay in 2012.

Hosmer has 9.9 Wins Above Replacement for his career.

Carpenter has 23.7 WAR since 2012.

(Side note: Carpenter ranks 14th among MLB position players in WAR since ’12.)

Despite having played in 184 fewer big-league games — and having 755 fewer plate appearances — than Hosmer, Carpenter has been worth    13.8 more wins   than Hosmer.

Carpenter’s career onbase percentage is 35 points higher than Hosmer’s.

Carpenter’s career slugging percentage is 21 points higher than Hosmer’s.

In park-adjusted runs created, Carpenter is 31 percent above the league average offensively for his career. Hosmer is 11 percent above average (career.)

Carpenter’s defensive metrics are vastly superior to Hosmer’s. (Two different metric systems come to the same conclusion on that. I’ll accept that over the “eyeball test.”

Hosmer has a slightly negative base-running rating (FanGraphs) for his career.  Carpenter — with his pratfalls included — has a slightly above-average base-running rating (FanGraphs) for his career.

But what really surprises — and mystifies — me, is the inexplicable failure of many to appreciate Carpenter’s exceptional ability to get on base.

Too many Carp haters spend time whining about his so-so performance batting third in the lineup  instead of understanding and embracing the importance of having a leadoff man who gets on base with a frequency that few No. 1 hitters have matched or exceeded in modern ball.

After manager Mike Matheny moved Carpenter back to the No. 1 spot in early June last season, the results were familiar. In 389 plate appearances at leadoff, Carpenter had a superb .418 onbase percentage, and slugged .487.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to find a leadoff man that possesses a combination of elite onbase skill + significant power? As a leadoff hitter last season, Carpenter performed 43 percent above league average offensively. That’s pretty much the same as his career wRC+ when batting leadoff.

And you want to trade him? Why, because Carpenter can play three infield positions and is above average at first base and slightly below average at second base and third base during his career? You want to trade Carpenter because he’s adequate — not elite  — defensively?

You want to trade him because he’s a horrendous base runner? A slow runner, yes. A mistake-prone runner, yes. But in 2017 Carpenter actually reduced his number of unforced errors on the bases to 12. Four other Cardinals ran into more outs than Carpenter. A total of 44 players ran into more outs on the bases than Carpenter last season. And five others had the same amount of unforced running errors (12) as Carpenter … including Kris Bryant. (Trade Bryant!)

Since Carpenter began hitting leadoff regularly for the Cardinals in 2013, he ranks first among all MLB leadoff men with a .391 OBP over that time. He’s been on base 1,011 times in the leadoff role, more than  any No. 1 hitter in the game. Moreover, Carpenter ranks second among leadoff men in slugging (.486), second in OPS (.877), second in runs, second in RBIs,  and 4th in homers.

STATS LLC began tracking leadoff OBP in 1974.

Since 1974, here are the Top 5 leadoff career onbase percentages in the majors:

1. Mike Hargrove,    .415

2. Wade Boggs,    .413

3. Rickey Henderson,  .401

4. Joe Morgan,   .400

5.  Matt Carpenter,    .391

And Carpenter’s career leadoff OPS ranks  second  since ’74.

Ah … but who needs something as trifling as a leadoff hitter who rates up there with three Hall of Famers (Boggs, Henderson, Morgan) for his ability to get on base? Why would any team want a leadoff guy who gets on base nearly 40 percent of the time — and adds plenty of power to go with it?

Yep. Better get Carpenter out of here ASAP, and then crazily overpay for a dude who isn’t as good.

But seeing that the gentlemen who run the St. Louis baseball operation aren’t as dumb as a closet of brooms, I don’t think that will happen.

Thanks for reading and have a nice weekend …

–Bernie

More – Miklasz – You Want Giancarlo Stanton? Now Batting for the Cardinals: Matt Holliday

  • Jason French

    Bernie, I agree with you on most things, but man…come on. Your man crush of Marp is crazy. He’s a good, solid player, but don’t act like he’s the next coming of Lou Brock. You act like batting average is no big deal. Ummmm…since when? His defense is so so. His base running is horrible. He is starting to strike out a LOT more than he used to. He can’t seem to get a big hit anymore. He can’t hit anywhere else but leadoff, and wouldn’t it be nice to get someone with speed on base at the top of the lineup? What a novel idea. He’s good, not great. Come on, guy.

    • JohnS

      James get with the program, the sabermetricians would be happy if Carpenter had a batting average of zero, as long as he had a good OBP….I know, koo koo for cocoa puffs, but that seems to be what they believe….

      • Mike Boyd

        You guys aren’t very good at math are you? Lol

        • Mike Boyd

          In what world is Average more vital than OBP? More worried about the game being “exciting” than winning I guess?

    • Realist50

      The single most important and valuable skill for any hitter is to get on base / not make outs. Good base running is also useful, but it’s also of course dependent on being able to get on base in the first place (outside of edge cases like pinch running, which is of course isn’t something that a starting position player can do anyway).

    • JDinSTL

      He hit less than VanSlyke vs. lefty pitching this year. Dump him.

  • geoff

    I like Matt Carpenter. I liked him better when he went to the plate looking to hit instead of looking to walk. I liked him better before he changed his swing to achieve the vaunted saber metric launch angle. When he was lashing doubles no one noticed what a bad base runner he was because he was in scoring position off the bat a lot more often. What he is now as a hitter would make him an almost perfect number two hitter in the lineup behind a speedy base runner. While he is not what anyone would call a great first baseman, he is certainly better there than anywhere else on the field and I saw him get better as last season moved along. The thought of getting rid of him in favor of Hosmer is just silly and the same people suggesting that idea are the same people who for years wanted to run Matt Holliday out of town on a rail. I hate to see the Cardinals add any more long term contract outfielders because I think a kid like Sierra would be fun to watch, I love speed. Now if a team like the Marlins insisted that Carpenter be part of a deal involving Stanton, I would understand making the move but, to add a player like Hosmer, who is coming off a career year that was only marginally better than Carpenter who is coming off his worst year thus far would just not make any sense at all. All of that said, I sure wish Matt could be productive down one spot in the order.

  • JohnS

    Good article Bern….from what you have written, the Cards should be able to get some great talent for him when he is traded this off-season (hopefully!)….

  • Scott Jones

    When I go to Cardinals games, I often wear my Carpenter jersey. I am a fan. He is a good, solid player. He works hard, gets the most out of his ability, and plays hard. He gets on base extremely well and has moved all over the field, as needed.

    • TH

      Fellow Marp fan here…I also have a Matt Carpenter jersey. It’s his 2016 jersey from the all star game at Petco Park in San Diego. It’s a very unique jersey and I love it…Look Carpenter is a flawed player. Very few people dispute that. But his deficiencies are not enough to outweigh his strengths and whether people wanna admit it or not he has a lot of strengths. And I think the Cardinals have to do a heck of a lot better than Hosmer or Santana or whom ever else may be available via free agency to make getting rid of him worth their while. I’m talking Joey Votto good, or Freddy Freeman good. And I don’t see either one of those happening so I don’t see the point.

  • TH

    Great article Bernie. I don’t really know how people can justify the idea that Hosmer is better than Carpenter, other than they are just looking at what happened last year as opposed to what they have been over the course of their respective careers. I don’t mean this as a knock on Hosmer. He has value. But it almost seems like a lot of people view him as some sort of superstar when in reality he’s no more than a slightly above average regular at a position that demands above average production offensively. He provided that last year and was an all star caliber player, but what happens when his average regresses back to the .280s with a .340ish obp and he only knocks 18-20 hrs? Will Cardinals fans be happy with that production out of a first basemen making 20+ million a year? Especially when he’s replacing Carpenter who, besides the batting average, will more than likely exceed those numbers?

    • Realist50

      I agree. About the only positive I can see for Hosmer over Carpenter is that Hosmer is 4 years younger.

      Beyond that, maybe people get excited over what Hosmer has done in his relatively good years? He’s had two of the past four years (2017 and 2015) when he’s been a 3.5 to 4 WAR player by Fangraphs WAR. The problem, however, is that he was basically replacement level in both 2014 and 2016. That inconsistency is very likely part and parcel of Hosmer’s hitting profile, because he hits so many grounders – over 50% groundball rate every year, and over 55% in both 2016 and 2017 – that his batting production looks pretty good in years when more of his grounders find holes and not so good in years when more of his grounders turn into outs.

      I’m sure some of it is that he’s had some big moments in the postseason, which not so knowledgeable fans tend to overvalue. What’s odd is if there are still any MLB front offices that would value a player on that basis, because most front offices have gotten fairly intelligent about understanding which stats are predictive of future performance.

      I’ve seen one theory that maybe Hosmer’s combination of some power but too many grounders argues that he’s a player who could benefit from the so-called “airball revolution” by modifying his swing to hit the ball in the air more. The difficulty that I see with that argument, however, is that it’s a tough one to make for committing $100 million to a free agent. I can understand it as an idea for trying to find diamonds in the rough among players who are minor league free agents, released minor leaguers, or very cheap free agents. In short, examples like J.D. Martinez, Justin Turner, or, for the Cardinals, Jose Martinez (all acquired as more or less freely available minor leaguers) or even Logan Morrison (signed before last season for 1 year / $2.5 million plus about $1 million in incentives). (Jose Martinez of course has quite a ways to go to be anything like the value of J.D. Martinez or Turner. Just saying that he’s a broadly similar profile in being a player who was apparently a late bloomer as a hitter and that part of his profile change was hitting the ball in the air more, like those other names).

      Hosmer’s asking price, however, doesn’t at all fit that trade-off of upside vs. downside.

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  • James Berry

    I’d like Carpenter gone. I’ve made no secret about that. But it isn’t because i want Hosmer…because i don’t want Hosmer. Nor do i want Carpenter being a “super utility” man. He’s not good enough at any position to have that role. He’s barely adequate at 1st and not even close to adequate at 2nd or 3rd. He clogs the bases as a lead off hitter. Had he been decent enough hitting 3rd, then his speed would be less of an issue. He has become a dead pull hitter that looks to walk or hit a homer.

    Yes, he should be traded to the AL so he can clog bases there instead of on the Cardinals. Trade him for what, you ask. Straight up i’d take a good set up man for him.

    • Agreed. But Bernie writes an article on Carp about once a month, and anyone who disagrees with him is an idiot. This article is more about “the trade Carp idiots” than it is about Carp.

      • maryville

        So what are you saying?

  • ken

    way to go, bernie! thank you for the great, on-target piece, sir.

  • Donald A Glenn Jr

    Ok, I like Carp and yes he has a great OBP. But what good does that do when He can’t steal a base or take and extra base on a throw without being thrown out. Put him in the 2 hole and I am fine. Look at reality here for a second. What is better having a fast runner hit behind Carp or Carp hit behind a fast runner? He gets on base with a walk NO PITCHER is scared of him. And the defense isn’t either. When Carp is on first, unless someone hits a Triple or Home Run HE DOES NOT SCORE. WE DO NOT NEED 20 HRs from a Lead off batter. We need a lead off batter that not only gets on base but is a concern to the defense while he is there. As for Hosmer, I really have no clue why people think we need him. If I am going to replace Carp I am bringing in Abreu or Morrison, Some one that has pop. I am not a have to trade Carp guy but too much his being made about his OBP that actually produces very little. Again you put him in the 2 slot with a runner on base and teams would not be able to employ the shift. Off course if he KNEW HOW to BUNT dome 3b LINE his OBP would be through the roof. BUt unless we can get a solid Sp or a closer or a serious upgrade keep him and bat him second.

  • JDinSTL

    What if you hate “team friendly contracts” at positions that should produce more?

  • Mark Lee Arbogast

    I k ow it will send Bernie into one of his Exorcist Voices fits but I don’t care what he says…batting average is more important than war and launch angles.

  • Aaron Cardaro Davis

    Not a bad article, while I don’t believe Marp is a bad player, I just don’t like him leading off. I’d prefer someone with speed at the top of the order. A guy up there with the potential to steal a base changes the at bats for the guys behind him. Pitchouts become a thing, giving the batter a free ball to work with. Fast balls become.more common with the threat of a legit base stealer on 1st. Carp, if he could figure it out mentally, would make for a better 5 hitter, cleaning up the left overs from the middle of the order. I truly only want him to ever see time at 1st, if he plays 2nd and third we are giving up extra hits that our staff will have to navigate through. Again, don’t mind carp, just not leading off, or playing defense anywhere besides first.

  • William Thom

    What have you been smokin Bernie? Carpenter is replacement level at best defensively at 1st, and below elsewhere. And yes, batting average does have some value. Carpenter as a base runner, who knows….2nd part, yes Carpenter is valuable. His OBP is great and of course the power is pretty good. Plus, he is a hard worker for sure. I do wish he didn’t struggle hitting other spots than lead off….3rd part. I am not big on Hosmer either. Some like his defense, some don’t, but overall, Carpenter is better. If they really are set on a new first basemen, sign Santana. Cheaper, and better than Hosmer, and a little better defensively than Carpenter, with similar batting stats.

  • Danny Claunch

    Good article. I think a lot of fans are still fixated on the past, like the Cards still play on AstroTurf in old Busch. Speed is great but OBP is a hell of a lot more important. The #1 job of a lead off man is to get on base!
    PS Get Stanton!

  • Dave Nelson

    I agree with geoff a littler further down the posting. I used to think that Carp was completely underrated. A really tough out, with great line-drive gap power. He and Molina were the guys you wanted up when the game was on the line. The 2017 Carp was not this guy. He is so pull conscious, and so uppercut driven that he has become a blip with the game on the line. I really got wore out watching him see how far he could hit the HIGH fly ball to left. With some common sense at bats, ie, bunt down the 3rd base line, until they were forced to quit playing him to pull the ball into the 2nd baseman’s glove. How many AB’s does it take for someone to get a clue. His base running, and fielding are legendary below average. Trade for Hosmer? hell no. not an upgrade in any stretch. Hard worker – hell yes. stubborn – double hell yes. Give me the dangerous bat of 2013-2016, when he averaged 42 doubles and I’d put him on 1st base and never look back.

  • keith walker

    I would be fine with carpenter and martinez at FB giving you a terrific lefty righty setup and Martinez really came on defensively late in season and was their best MOO bat who did deliver in clutch situations and is a tough out. We will see if MM is a decent mgr, not so far IF he has the talk with Dexter and puts him in left where he belongs for rest of career, he killed the cardinals often with his bad D. Let him leadoff when carp not in game and in MOO where he excelled surprisingly in second half and showed surprising power and clutch abilty with MOB.they need starting pitching and stanton but that contract is awful.

  • Craig Martin

    Finally, a good article on Carpenter. He is the best on base guy I’ve ever seen wear the cardinal uniform. His only down fall is he is slow. But if he was fast he would probably already moved him to left field.