A Fresh Serving of Stupid: Matt Carpenter Excluded From Top 50 List

OK, it’s not like Matt Carpenter has been systematically ignored during his career. He’s been chosen for two MLB All-Star Games. He’s twice earned MVP votes including an impressive fourth-place finish in the 2013 National League balloting.

Matt Carpenter
Carpenter ranks fourth in the majors in onbase percentage (.416), is tied for 13th in slugging (.558), and is fourth in combined onbase-slugging percentage (.975).

I’m unaware of anti-Carpenter sentiment among baseball writers and broadcasters. The accessible and thoughtful Carpenter is one of the most media-friendly baseball players I’ve encountered.

Carpenter is also one helluva hitter, and my opinion comes fully equipped with an impressive statistical package.

It’s difficult to comprehend how any list of the Top 50 MLB Players for 2016 would exclude Carpenter. But that’s what happened when Sporting News convened a 27-person panel of voters.

Adding silliness to foolishness Carpenter didn’t make the Top 55, either. The Sporting News cited five other players in an honorable mention sort of thing, and Carpenter still didn’t make the cut.

Why? I don’t know. Maybe they voted for Bernie Sanders.

In fairness the voting was conducted during the first two weeks of May before Carpenter went on his recent rampage. (Carpenter was hardly a slacker; he had a .909 OPS at mid-May.) And keep this in mind: in explaining the voting process the Sporting News said selectors “were asked to rank the top 25 players in baseball based on previous performance as well as current statistics.”

Well, that makes the snub even more perplexing.  Carpenter is no novelty. Since breaking in with the Cardinals in 2012, Carpenter ranks 13th among all MLB players with 20.4 Wins Above Replacement. (FanGraphs version of WAR.) If other players on the “50” received consideration based on past performance, Carpenter warranted the same courtesy.

I understand that Carpenter isn’t a good base runner. Defensively, he was rated below average at third-base in 2015 and was slightly above average at 3B this year (with two defensive runs saved). He was switched back to second base — his defensive home in 2014 — on June 7. Then and now, Carpenter is an average fielder at second base according to the Fielding Bible.

The point is, Carpenter needn’t apologize for defense. He’s solid. Besides, we see players on the Sporting News Top 50 list that aren’t exactly Ozzie Smith or Brooks Robinson with the glove.

Carpenter’s substantial offense is more than enough to warrant a spot among the Top 50.

This season Carpenter ranks fourth in the majors in onbase percentage (.416), is tied for 13th in slugging (.558), and is fourth in combined onbase-slugging percentage (.975). He’s sixth in extra-base hits, fourth in walk rate, tied for fifth in doubles, sits at 18th in Isolated Power, and cracks the top 25 in runs and RBIs. (Yeah, I know: runs and RBIs are largely dependent on the performance of teammates, but still … )

If you prefer to build a Carpenter case on metrics, here you go …

Carpenter’s rankings among qualifying MLB hitters this season:

  • 20th in the majors in Fan Graphs’ version of WAR (2.8).
  • Tied for 7th the Baseball Reference version of Offensive WAR (3.2).
  • 2nd in the majors in weighted runs created plus (wRC+) at 162.
  • Tied for second in OPS+ at 160.
  • 17th in Total Runs. That’s a Bill James stat combines offense, defense and base-running — with the value of a player’s defensive position factored into the equation.
  • Tied for third in RC/27 at 8.35 runs. That’s another Bill James stat. Explanation: if a player could take every at-bat for his team in a game, how many runs would his team score? With Carpenter the answer is 8.35 runs. That’s a big number. So far this season only David Ortiz (9.01) and Anthony Rizzo (8.62) top Carpenter in RC/27.

Carpenter has cut down on his strikeouts this season. He takes terrific at-bats. He’s one of the best two-strike hitters in the industry.

And Carpenter has arguably been MLB’s best leadoff hitter since moving into the role in 2013.

Among hitters that have a minimum of 800 plate appearances at leadoff since 2013, Carpenter ranks first in onbase percentage, OPS, walks, hits, runs, homers, doubles, extra-base hits, times on base, total bases, RBIs, and RC/27.

Does Carpenter steal bases? Um, no. No one is saying he’s Rickey Henderson.

But from the No. 1 spot on the lineup Carpenter gets on base in 39 percent of his plate appearances, and has a slugging percentage (.485) that ranks second among leadoff men over the last four seasons.

The job requirements of a leadoff hitter have evolved. Stolen bases are swell, but getting on base at a fat rate is the top priority.

Since STATS LLC officially began tracking leadoff-hitter stats in 1974, only four players have a higher leadoff OBP than Carpenter’s .391. (Minimum 1,000 plate appearances at the No. 1 spot.) Their names: Mike Hargrove, Wade Boggs, Henderson, and Rod Carew. And Carpenter’s leadoff OPS (.877) ranks second to Hanley Ramirez since ’74.

Since coming to the big leagues to stay in 2012,  Carpenter has started games at third base, second base, first base, right field, and left field for the Cardinals. This season Carpenter has started 49 times at third base, 12 games (and counting) at second base, and three games at first base.

I would think the versatility would enhance Carpenter’s value.

But don’t ask me; I’m one of the peeps that believe Carpenter is a Top 50 player right now.

I must be dumb.

Or maybe just dumbfounded.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

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