For the second straight season, Matt Carpenter is off to a rough start and has fantasy managers questioning whether they should hang on or cut bait. At this time last year, he had an impossibly bad .165/.320/.320 line and when paired with a preseason shoulder injury, he seemed ripe for a cut. At least, my dumbass thought so. Despite some positive underlying metrics, I was concerned that his shoulder would prevent him from really breaking through and thus suggested benching or cutting him in 10- and 12-team formats.
His rock bottom came on May 15th with a .140/.286/.272 line, but from there he was elite with a .287/.397/.587 line that included 33 HR, 68 RBI, 99 R, and even 4 SB over 537 PA. I can’t access his Statcast numbers at that time (or at least I don’t think I can, if period-based Statcast numbers are available, please let me know), but I remember them being encouraging enough to make it an open question about whether to cut bait despite the hideous output.
What we do have are his contact rates from then and his 39% Hard contact rate was solid while his 8% Soft contact rate was truly excellent. He was still striking the ball well and it was only a matter of time before his .178 BABIP would turn. This year’s iteration of struggle bus Carpenter has been better results-wise with a .215/.317/.369 line that includes 4 HR and 20 R, though just 8 RBI. The batted ball profile is damn-near identical to last year, though:
|2018 thru 5/15||140||0.140||0.286||0.272||29%||16%||45%||29%||8%||53%||39%|
|2019 thru 5/6||153||0.215||0.317||0.369||24%||14%||48%||25%||6%||54%||40%|
As for his StatCast data, his average 88.7 mph Exit Velocity is less than 1 mph away from last year’s mark of 89.6. The Launch Angle is just under 2 degrees higher than last year’s mark, going from 20.4 to 22.1. The 9% Barrel Rate is waaaay lower, but of course last year’s 14% rate includes the mega-surge after mid-May. Last year, he had a 9% HR/FB rate through May 15th and so far this year, he’s matched that mark. From May 16th on, he had a 21% HR/FB and while I wouldn’t expect that, I don’t think it’s out of bounds for him to push his rate up to the 15% he’s had from 2015-18.
We discussed Carp on the latest podcast with regard to whether or not we’d buy low and I made a flippant comment that I wasn’t going to give up on him for at least another month or so simply because of how badly I got burnt last year, but now that I look deeper into his profile, I stand by that and not just because of last year. While I’d never predict him to have a run like he did last summer, I do think he’ll be markedly better from here on out. Something more in line with his 2017 season (.241/.384/.451) with 18-22 HR feels right as for Carpenter rest of season. In fact, that’s in line with ZiPS and Steamer while The BAT is a bit more friendly, giving him a .251/.370/.486 line and 24 HR.
I wouldn’t move on from Carpenter at this point and I would be open to buying him in a deal. His surge last year and the fact that he’s not playing as poorly as he was this time last year will prevent him from being a total steal in trade talks, but don’t be afraid to pay near market value. A little discount for a batting average-deficient 33-year old is in order, but don’t expect to get him for the likes Rowdy Tellez or Derek Dietrich (unless your leaguemate needs a boost in beekeeping!).