Matt Carpenter Is a Great Leadoff Man. Why Does This Make So Many People Cray Cray?

Matt Carpenter is the Cardinals’ leadoff hitter.

He should bat first in the lineup.

Unless, of course, the Cardinals are trying to weaken that lineup and lose more games.

Carpenter is the No. 1 hitter.

Write it down, with a permanent marker.

End of discussion.


After Carpenter rocked his 30th home run of the season on Tuesday night to give the Cardinals a late liftoff and a 3-2 victory at Miami, manager Mike Shildt fielded another question about moving Carpenter out of the leadoff spot.

Because …

Success is bad?

“You’re going to see him there for a while,” Shildt told reporters after the game. “I do get the dialogue, but he’s hitting leadoff and having success, so I don’t know why we’d interrupt that.”

I’m pretty sure Shildt was being polite with the “a while” qualifier there.

Because Shildt ain’t dumb.

And Shildt watched another St. Louis manager try to relocate Carpenter from the No. 1 perch and into a so-called RBI slot — two years in a row, no less — only to circle back, and restore Carpenter to leadoff.

The former manager called off the Carpenter experiment and led him back to his natural habitat because there is a huge difference, an enormous difference — about a 47 percent difference in offensive performance — when MC13 bats first in the lineup … and when he  doesn’t  bat first in the lineup. More on that in a few.

Let’s walk through the inquiry, the theory, the redundancy.

Just as a simple a courtesy to those who missed it the first 1,280 times.

— Carpenter has formidable pull power. And when his swing is right, and his confidence is peaking, and his mind is clear and free … well, this is when homers all but sprout and shoot from Carpenter’s beard.

— So why settle for these little baby miniature solo shots when Carpenter could be doing the Jimmy Edmonds, circa 2004? This season 26 of Carpenter’s 30 home runs have been triggered with the bases empty.  That’s a crazy stat for an insanely hot hitter. To some, these solo home runs are nothing less than an irresponsible waste of firepower — and perhaps even a crime.

— Because … HEY!  Carpenter could be applying this awesome power from the No. 2 spot, No. 3 spot, No. 4 spot!  Rack up a bunch of two-run homers, three-run volleys, the occasional salami. That’s what Jimmy Edmonds did with his smooth, picturesque left-handed swing. Carpenter, in fact, is the first left-handed hitting Cardinal to hit 30 homers in a season since Edmonds traveled the airspace over outfield walls and fences for 42 big ones in 2004. And some two-run, three-run doubles from Carpenter would be sweet.

Here’s the reason why Carpenter shouldn’t move from the No. 1 lineup spot:

When Carpenter bats leadoff, his onbase skill + power replicates the excellent combination of high OBP and slugging of a Larry Walker or a Jim Edmonds.

And when Carpenter has batted elsewhere in his career — specifically 2nd, 3rd, 4th or 5th — his OBP and slugging rates replicate that of Milt Thompson and Skip Schumaker.  No offense to those gentlemen.

But in terms of OPS, there is a difference of 183 points between Thompson’s career OPS as a Cardinal (.721) and Walker’s career OPS as a Cardinal (.904) And  a difference of more than 200 points in OPS between Edmonds (.947) and Schumaker (.722.)

Does this make sense?

No, never.

Carpenter should be able to perform at his peak no matter where he bats in the lineup.

Then again, NBA players have a sweet spot on the floor. They like to shoot from an area where they’re more comfortable and confident. This is where they usually get hot. They shoot at a higher percentage from the sweet spot than from another place on the floor that might be 20 inches away. It makes no sense. But … IT WORKS. It’s their zone.

And so it is for Carpenter. I can’t explain it.

I just know where he’s always thrived.

And it’s batting first in the lineup.

Here’s the breakdown of what Carpenter has done in his 2,912 plate career plate appearances as a Cardinal leadoff hitter, and I’ll compare it to his career performance level when he’s batted 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th (950 combined PA.)

Batting average:  .293 … .232

Onbase percentage:  .394 … .338

Slugging percentage:  .504 … .382

OPS:  .898 … .720

Isolated Power (ISO): .212 … .150

Park adjusted runs created (100 = average): 146 … 99

Strikeout rate:  17.7% … 21.6%

AB/HR:  25.4 … 34.8

AB/RBI:   7.7 … 7.5

Please indulge me as I recite a statistic that rates as one of my favorites:

According to the STATS LLC data on leadoff hitting — which goes back to 1913 — Carpenter’s leadoff .898 OPS  ranks No. 1 among MLB hitters with at least 2,000 plate appearances in the leadoff spot.

To repeat:

Matt   Carpenter  has  the  best  leadoff  OPS  in  major  league  baseball  over the  last 105 seasons.

So … my peoples …

Why do we want to move him out of the top spot — his hot spot? Given the obvious disparity in Carpenter’s hitting when he bats first … measured against his showing when batting 2-3-4-5 … is there a reason for transferring him? Does this make sense to a rational person?

Miles Davis was a master of the trumpet; no one asked him to move to a different location of the stage and play the damn standup bass because another dude can play trumpet.

Hemingway wrote great novels. His publisher didn’t tell him to write a cookbook because the publisher can’t find someone to put together a guide on “The Secret to Easy and Delicious Crockpot Meals!”

Hey, you … Drew Brees  … go play free safety. Help us out. We need a free safety.

Nate “Tiny Archibald” … little fella, we lost our power forward to a knee injury … need you to play the “4” against the Lakers.

Hey, Carpenter … even though you have the best OPS by a leadoff man in 105 years of baseball, Marcell Ozuna isn’t hitting for power so here’s what we’re going to do: weaken our lineup by taking you out of the No. 1 slot, where you are amazingly successful … and put you in the fourth spot and weaken our lineup again because you suck as a cleanup hitter.  Or maybe we’ll weaken the No. 1 spot and the No. 3 spot by switching you to third in the lineup. Either way, we’ll be less effective in two lineup spots. But that’s what we’re gonna do.

Move Matt Carpenter from leadoff to a place where he’s 47 percent worse as a hitter based on park adjusted runs created.

Yep, get  him out of the top spot and make your lineup even less imposing at two places.

Take Carpenter out of there right now. Immediately.

Because, after all, Carpenter swatted only 13 homers and was slugging .915 in his last 22 games before Wednesday night. That’s 13 homers in 82 at-bats … or a bomb every 6.3 at-bats.


Mess with him.

Cool him down.

Sounds like a great idea.

Thanks for reading …


More: The Cardinals’ Improved Hitting Approach Should Lead to Better Results