St. Louis Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter striking out too often
The arc of the home run, which Matt Carpenter bounced off the right foul pole at Busch Stadium on April 13, was high enough to give the crowd time to inhale and exhale alongside the Cardinals’ contested infielder.
Baseball tells its own stories, and following a groundbreaking single from the night before with a majestic ride with an unusual shape was surely the way we would tell the story of Carpenter’s turnaround in 2021.
Not all stories have a predictable structure.
In the seven games that followed Carpenter’s breakout from every corner, he walked 1:19 with 10 spikes and not a single walk. Those seven games included four multi-strikeout games; These four games covered all but one of his starts in the field.
The questions haven’t changed as the first month of the season draws to a close. Neither have the answers, although perhaps a more threatening sign is that they’re running out.
“Sometimes there is no answer to that,” Cardinals manager Mike Shildt said Wednesday after Carpenter teamed up with the eighth inning loaded bases to end a potentially game-changing rally. “And it is very rare when I have at least no answer as part of my commitment to you, but I no longer have a good answer for Matt Carpenter.
“Damn it, you know, the guy hits the balls square. We realize that the shift is part of it. But man, it’s definitely frustrating for him. And we’ll keep seeing what it looks like. “
What it looks like is mostly the image Shildt and the team described during spring training and the early part of the season, with maybe more color around the edges.
According to MLB’s Baseball Savant, Carpenter’s 2021 average exit speed at the start of the game on Friday is more difficult than all but 4% of baseball players. As a percentage of hits hit hard, he lists all but the top 2%. He’s out of the strike zone better than 86% of the players, and there’s no one in baseball – he’s in the 100th percentile – who puts the ball on the barrel more often when it makes contact.
Avoiding recurring problems with Carpenter
It is contact that has become a serious challenge. Zimmermann in the 10th percentile of the breath percentage; 90% of thugs in the majors are more likely than him to make contact with a particular shot. And he’s in the fifth percentile of the strike rate; Take a random group of 100 Major Leaguers from the 2021 season, 95 of which have appeared less than Matt Carpenter.
The publicly available data has been crawled for countless hours, but it’s private data that may be more of a problem. The Cardinals make extensive use of blast motion sensors that measure bat speed, among other things.
Increased resistance from Carpenter’s bat through the zone would certainly be compatible with the eye test and could explain why he is only attacked by speed and movement rather than changing speed. His percentage of breaking balls seen has increased, off-speed pitches have decreased, and the percentage of fastballs against him has remained constant.
Williams, young Cardinals outfielder
Complicating the Carpenter question was the emergence of Justin Williams as a sincere option in the corner as a left-hander. The Cardinals have been saying for months that they are looking for one or more of their young outfielders to take advantage of an opportunity and with injuries to Harrison Bader and Tyler O’Neill, Williams has done so, showing patience and strength from the bottom of the line-up.
With Bader and O’Neill on the mend, a cadre crisis will hit the Cardinals in due course. With Austin Dean and John Nogowski’s relative redundancy, there is still room for Carpenter even with these two sane, but his improvement has to be more than an illusion for the Cardinals to remain as indebted to him as they were.
“When a guy is good at handling bats and an accomplished guy in that league, you tend to go with him. As I said, there is no reason not to, ”Shildt explained. “If he hits weak ground balls and shows up and hits a lot and doesn’t go for a walk, we’d clearly adjust, but he puts good swings on baseball.”
Hard contact, Ks up, goes down
Shildt is right that Carpenter doesn’t hit weak ground balls (they’re hard) or bounce (they fly out), but his strikes are up and his walks are down. These are ominous signs.
The Cardinals have organizational, historical, and financial obligations to Matt Carpenter that are significant. His clubhouse relationships are important; Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt both count him among their closest confidants to the cardinal. Its flexibility and handedness are important; He’s an adequate defender in two positions and, at least in theory, offers a balance on the bench.
He just needs to make more contact or some of those commitments and relationships will lose value. Carpenter earned the right to write the story he deserves, but calendar pages come with deadlines, and his is not indefinite.
Jeff Jones is a freelance sports writer and a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. He is a regular contributor to the Belleville News-Democrat, mlb.com, and other sports websites.