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Hey, Matt Carpenter Is Really Good. Please Tell Your Neighbor And Local Sportswriter

With the online poll closing at 3 p.m. Wednesday STL time, Cardinals’ third baseman Matt Carpenter was fifth in the click-it competition in the National League “Final Vote” for a spot on the league All-Star team.

Seeing that there are only five players on the ballot, Carpenter’s fifth-place standing doesn’t not augur well for his chances of being an official All-Star for the fourth time.

I am hardly stunned by the voting trend.

This was predictable for a few reasons.

# As we discussed earlier this week, the Cardinals are a middle-pack team that lacks magnetism. They simply don’t attract the spotlight with the same pull that made the franchise a star vehicle and postseason fixture from 2000 through 2015.

# Not that many voters spend time studying numbers, but Carpenter does not have a statistical edge on the other four contenders based on performance. Max Muncy (Dodgers) has 3.3 WAR, followed by Brandon Belt (Giants) and Trea Turner (Nationals) at 2.9 WAR. That’s just a teensy bit ahead of the 2.8 WAR posted by Jesus Aguilar (Brewers) and Carpenter. And Muncy (176 wRC+), the big man Aguilar (160 wRC+) and Belt (145 wRC+) are above Carpenter’s wRC+ of 137. There is nothing to apologize for here; Carpenter is 37 percent above league average offensively in park adjusted runs created. It’s just that the Muncy, Aguilar and Belt are having better seasons with the bat than Carpenter.

# The other four candidates seem to be gaining votes from a grass-roots effort organized by fans of their respective teams. Giants fans always get out the vote, and there is great enthusiasm in Milwaukee for the campaign to get Aguilar to the All-Star game. Cardinals fans are running rather low on enthusiasm these days, and that’s at least partially evident in Carpenters last-place position at the moment.

# And let’s face it: There’s been a general weirdness with Cardinals fans when it comes to Carpenter. This does not apply to all of the BFIB. Or even half the BFIB. But there sure seems to be an awful lot of complaining over Carpenter out there, and it’s been that way for several years now. Usually a lot of it has to do with Carpenter’s batting average. To hell with Carpenter’s MLB best .390 leadoff onbase percentage since 2013 — it doesn’t matter … because his batting average is too low, and that’s how you judge a hitter, by his average! Everybody knows that! Now excuse me while I settle in and watch “I Love Lucy.” That Fred Mertz is the best.

Carpenter’s performance is oddly mischaracterized or perhaps misunderstood. Fans and media are often wrong in their blanket-statement assessments of Carpenter’s play. It’s fascinating to me, because I don’t really understand the underlying reason for the stubborn refusal to give Carpenter proper credit for the positive aspects of his performance. Not that this is necessarily a personal thing; I think there are a lot of good people among us who simply don’t understand — or at least try to process — Carpenter’s value.

An example that fits what I’m talking about appeared in our town’s prominent gazette this week, with the writer handing out report-card grades to the individual Cardinals — with some quickie analysis and commentary added to explain the mark.

Carpenter was given a grade of “C  minus.”  That of course is below average; meaning that Carpenter’s first-half performance was, if anything, detrimental to the team’s chances of winning.

(Marcell Ozuna, on the other hand, received a “B” grade.)

Carpenter was classified as an “inadequate” defender. One factor in the team’s defensive struggle was using “two designated hitters”  in the field.  Presumably this was in reference to Jose Martinez, and Carpenter. And there had to be a mention of base running, but I can’t recall.

And I’m sure a good percentage of readers agreed with much — if not all — of this “C minus” Carpenter evaluation.

Here are my two “negatives” on Carpenter,  if you will:

1.  Carpenter suffered through an awful start offensively this season with a .140 batting average and .558 OPS through his first 35 games. But that was 50 games ago … but … he’s been one of the most prolific producers in the majors since May 16. In 50 games and 222 plate appearances Carpenter is batting .332, with a .419 onbase percentage and .653 slugging percentage for an OPS of 1.072. During this resurgence Carpenter has 20 doubles, 14 homers, 28 runs batted in, and 43 runs scored. And he’s also made a significant cut in his strikeout rate; it’s 21.5% over the last 50 games.

This is positive, yes?

Can a cold start be forgiven? Or is the dude judged on his first 140 plate appearances instead of an entire body of work over a full season?

That’s your basic fairness-objectivity-intelligence test.

I hope you pass.

2. Carpenter is a below-average base runner, and sure he’s on the slow side … but … this isn’t nearly as bad as perceived. Carpenter’s minus 1.1 Base Running Runs represent an improved trend from last season. Fangraphs gives Carpenter a slightly above average base running rating. Carpenter has made outs on the bases five times this season on unforced base running errors, but that’s’ much better than last season. In 2017, only 46 major-league players made more unforced outs on the bases than Carpenter; so far this season 97 MLB players have made more unforced outs. Including five of MC’s teammates: Tommy Pham (10), Harrison Bader (7), Dexter Fowler (7), Jose Martinez (7) and Yairo Munoz (7).

Carpenter can’t get any faster, but he needed to get smarter. And he’s showing much better judgment on the bases this season. This is all we need to know: Last season, Carpenter had an extra bases taken percentage of only 29 percent. This season that percentage is up to 42%. So to sum up: Carpenter is  making fewer bonehead mistakes on the bases, but he’s improved his extra-bases-taken percentage by 13 points.

That’s a clear improvement in two vital areas, yes?

And that’s your second fairness-objectivity-intelligence test.

Once again, good luck; I want you to pass with flying colors.

As for Carpenter’s offense and defense, here are the goods, through Tuesday night:

+ Carpenter is tied for 11th in NL overall with 2.8 WAR.

+ That 2.8 WAR is 6th among MLB third basemen and T-3 among NL third basemen…

+ Carpenter’s wRC+ of 137  (meaning that he’s 37% percent above league average offensively) is 10th best in the NL (all positions) and 24th in the majors. It’s also 3rd among NL third basemen and 5th among all MLB players at the position.

+ Carpenter’s .879 OPS is 24th overall, and 11th in NL… his 17 homers are tied for 7th in NL … his 26 doubles are 3rd in NL… his 43 extra-base hits are tied for fifth in the league.

+ Carpenter leads the Cardinals in OBP (tied), slugging percentage, OPS,  park adjusted runs created, Wins Above Replacement (WAR), home runs, doubles, extra-base hits, runs scored, total bases, most times on base, Isolated Power, Runs Created/27 and is third in RBIs.

+ Carpenter ranks third among MLB leadoff men (minimum 200 plate appearances) with a .942 OPS, and he’s fourth in slugging (.558), OBP (.384) and is seventh in batting average (.282.)

+ According to Statcast, Carpenter has a Hard Hit rate of 44.8% this season; that’s up from his 36.7% rate in 2017. Big improvement.

+ Statcast: Carpenter has barreled 29 pitches this season; he did that 31 times in all of 2017. His barrel rate of 13.7% ranks in the top seven percent of MLB hitters this season. Last year Carpenter had a barrel rate of 8.2%. Big improvement.

+ Statcast: Based on the quality of his contact on batted balls in play, Carpenter should have a batting average of .286 and a slugging percentage of .596.

+ Final bit from Statcast: Carpenter’s average exit velocity (90.5 mph) ranks 33rd in the majors this season. But again, big improvement. He ranked 68th last year, 79th in 2016, and 112th in 2015.

Yeah, but Carpenter is KILLING this team.

Everybody knows Carpenter stinks defensively, right? 

Well, no … he doesn’t.

Except for second base. I agree, he’s lousy at second base. But that’s about it. And Carpenter has played only 83 innings at second base this season, and none there since May 23, so as of now, Carpenter-2B isn’t much of a factor. Elsewhere…

Here you go:

+ Among MLB third basemen with at least 400 innings played, Carpenter is tied for second in the majors and first in the NL with 8 Defensive Runs Saved at the position…

+ Carpenter is second among MLB third basemen by getting outs on 44.4% of “unlikely plays” according to Inside Edge…

+ Carpenter is more than respectable (12th overall) with 43% outs on “Even” chance plays.

+ Carpenter ranks first among MLB third basemen with 100% outs made on “Likely” plays.

+ He’s also 11th in the majors at third base by getting outs on 23  out of zone plays.

+  And among MLB first basemen that have played at least 150 innings this season, Carpenter ranks 9th with  2 Defensive Runs Saved.

Sure, Carpenter has a funky throwing form — but since when are we scoring this as a gymnastics routine or an Olympic freestyle figure skating competition. Make the plays — or don’t. Get the outs — or don’t. Save runs with your defense — or cost your pitchers runs with your defense.

And Carpenter saves runs when he plays third or first.

But I can absolutely guarantee this much: even after reading this comprehensive collection of stats, facts, and metrics, a surprisingly robust percentage of fans and media will deny this, say it isn’t true and insist that Matt Carpenter sucks, insist that Carpenter is below average, that he cannot play defense, that he should be a DH, that it’s a swell idea to trade him, before he just sort of melts away, because his career is almost cooked.

And we wonder why Carpenter is running 5th and last in “The Final Vote” balloting?

Why would we expect fans around the nation to appreciate Carpenter when too many fans and media that follow the Cardinals are seemingly incapable of understanding or appreciating his value?

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

More: Is Cards Catcher Yadier Molina Worthy of the Hall of Fame? Let’s Make the Case.