Why Is Matt Carpenter Getting No Love?

Last week, I wrote a reaction piece to Yahoo’s average auction values at second base. This exercise helped me identify some trends regarding underpaid and overpaid players at the position heading into the 2017 season. One such discovery was that of Matt Carpenter’s budget-friendly $16.2 average auction price.

Considering Carpenter’s prodigious power production over the last two seasons, it surprised me to see that owners were spending more on 11 other 2B, all the way up to Jose Altuve’s steep $49.0 price tag. Specifically, I’m wondering why Carp costs about ten bucks less than anyone in the Robinson Cano/Brian Dozier/Jonathan Villar/Daniel Murphy/Rougned Odor tier. All of those players are going off the board for $25-$28.

Carp’s numbers last year looked roughly identical to his 2015, with the exception of about 100 fewer plate appearances, due to a DL stint for an oblique injury.

  • 2015: .272/.365/.505, .233 ISO, 12.2% BB, 22.7% K
  • 2016: .271/.380/.505, .235 ISO, 14.3% BB, 19.1% K

Any questions about the legitimacy of his 2015 power breakout vanished, as he managed to slightly improve upon his previous career-high isolated power. However, it’s also important to examine his 2016 season as a tale of two halves, pre- and post-injury.

That oblique ailment — which Carpenter suffered on July 6 — came at the worst possible time. Carpenter raked for the season’s first three months, and was one of the toughest outs in all of baseball.

  • 4/3-7/6: .298/.420/.568, .270 ISO, 16.5% BB, 17.4% K

Carp missed about a month with the oblique injury, and was clearly not the same when he returned.

  • 8/5-10/2: .229/.316/.410, .181 ISO, 10.7% BB, 21.9% K

Oblique injuries are notorious for lingering, and it appears that’s exactly what happened to Carpenter, as he struggled to return to form. Now, he enters 2017 at full health, looking to build off his incredible first half of 2016.

But fantasy owners clearly aren’t buying this narrative, and neither are projection systems. I don’t remotely understand why Steamer projects Carp for a .177 ISO, or why ZiPS expects only a slightly better .189. That’s right around the power level he hit at in the last two months of 2016 in the aftermath of the oblique injury. Why so bearish on the power, when he put up a .233 ISO in 2015, and increased that to .270 before he got hurt last year?

I’ll go on to add that both Steamer and ZiPS also project Carp to post a career-worst batting average. I understand that these systems might not appropriately weigh samples from players with nagging injuries, but why does everyone from projection systems to owners in Yahoo auctions expect Carpenter to regress so significantly?

To put a different spin on all this, check out Carpenter’s batted-ball profile for the first three months of 2016. How much more can a player do to prove that his improvements are for real?

  • Soft – 7.4%, Medium – 48.0%, Hard 44.5%

We’re still a couple weeks away from Bold Predictions season here at RotoGraphs, but I’ll go ahead and make one right now: Matt Carpenter will outperform his Fans projection for 2017. For reference, at the time of this writing, the fans project Carp’s 5×5 performance to include a .272 AVG, 24 HR, 108 R, 95 RBI and 4 SB.

Keep in mind that the Bold Predictions series aims for a roughly 30% success rate. In other words, they’re somewhat unlikely, but without being outlandish. I think that’s exactly what I stumbled across here.

Whether Carpenter actually outperforms the fans’ projections or not, he clearly deserves more than a $16 auction bid, and he even more certainly shouldn’t be cheaper than 11 other second basemen (especially since Carp is also eligible at 3B and 1B). If these pricing models hold true in my own auctions, Carpenter will be one of my favorite value targets.

Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.

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Couldn’t agree more. Depending on Altuve’s availability and my draft position, I’ll be targeting Carpenter if I miss out on Jose.