Matt Carpenter: An Appreciation

He’s not even supposed to be here.

We’ve forgotten that, I think. We’re so used to Matt Carpenter being good, that we’ve taken it for granted. We’ve ignored what he excels at, and often focus on what he doesn’t.

This is our fault, as fans. We watch world class athlete performing at the top of their field, and we ask why they can’t be great at everything they do. Why can’t everyone be Mike Trout? Run faster Yadi. Strike out more, Hicks. Matt Holliday! You’re too un-clutch for me!

Matt Carpenter isn’t a perfect baseball player. No one has ever claimed such. But damn, Matt Carpenter is an amazingly good baseball player. And even his fans underappreciate him. He’s not even supposed to be here!

Matt was great at baseball in high school, It’s hard to find an MLB player that wasn’t, but he was lazy. Baseball came easy to him. He expected to get drafted after his Junior year of college just like that.

It didn’t happen.

Matt’s freshman year he put up an OPS of .757, not exactly MLB inspiring. He lacked power. His slugging percentage was 25 points lower than his on base percentage.

Ask yourself. Is this a future MLB All-Star?

Matt hit much better in his sophomore season, compiling a .349 average, but he did so as a slap hitter. His slugging percentage was just .411. It’s a great year if you’re a jackrabbit. Matt Carpenter was never a jackrabbit.

Then came his junior year – the year it was all supposed to come together for Matt. Instead, it was the year that all fell apart.

Matt Carpenter threw across the diamond in a pre-season game and tore a ligament. He required Tommy John surgery. His year was over. His dream was over. His season was redshirted after 8 games and a .185 average. His weight ballooned to 240.

Is this a future MLB All-Star?

His new Junior year started the next year – already a year behind his contemporaries who were by then playing in the minors – and in his words his season was “awful.”

And Matt Carpenter decided to change his life.

He found God, found peace, and found hard work – none of which he has ever let go.

Dropping the fat and adding muscle, his Junior year recovered – and he gained some power hitting 11 home runs. Matt was named second-team All-Mountain West Conference.

His senior year was even better, as Carpenter unloaded for a .472 OBP and .662 slugging percentage. It was good timing, but maybe too late of timing. Carpenter played his final college game prepared that it was his last baseball game ever.

But John Mozeliak took a chance. It wasn’t much of a chance. Matt Carpenter went in the 13th round. He was the 399th pick overall. He signed for a grand total of $1,000.00.

The Cardinals 12th round pick was a guy named Patrick Daugherty who was shelled in the rookie leagues and released in 2011. The 11th round pick was a guy named Alan Ahmady who made it all the way to AA where he hit .145. The Cardinals 10th round pick was…are you getting the point?

Perhaps Cardinals fans have a bit of a high expectation for the 13th round. After all, Albert Pujols was also a 13th round pick, but 13th round picks are not supposed to make the majors. They are not supposed to become all stars. Matt Carpenter was 23 years old and had never played professional baseball. By contrast, the Cardinals starting center fielder was a 22 year old named Colby Rasmus.

There wasn’t much to believe in. There was no reason to think this guy would ever be an All-Star.

But unlike those other draft picks, Matt Carpenter didn’t stop hitting. He was an on base machine.

He was a Bautavia Muckdog for all of 32 at bats before becoming a River Bandit for another 100. Matt Carpenter slapped singles and Matt Carpenter took walks. Matt Carpenter was the original Greg Garcia.

His debut year was halted at high-A Palm Beach where the pitchers caught up to him and he hit .219, still without power. Matt Carpenter had earned himself another year, but future MLB All-Stars don’t hit .219 in single-A.

In 2010, after a promotion, Matt Carpenter exploded in AA Springfield hitting .316 with 12 home runs and his usual .400 plus OBP. He was the Cardinals Minor League Player of the Year. Yet Matt Carpenter was still not a prospect. He was older. He lacked power. The scouts didn’t like him. He had no speed. He had plenty of 3B ahead of him on the depth charts. He didn’t make a top 100 prospect list, he never did. Most of the time he didn’t even make a top Cardinals prospects list.

Here’s how John Sickels reviewed him, which is the only instance I can find of someone actually ranking him:carp2

That sounds about right. Doubt Matt Carpenter. Doubt Matt Carpenter. Doubt Matt Carpenter some more. Then watch as he makes you look like a fool.

In 2011 Matt made his FIRST SPRING TRAINING and was sent to the minor leagues with the following quest: power. We aren’t talking about Babe Ruth power. The Cardinals wanted him to find gap power. They wanted doubles power. Does that sound like the Matt Carpenter you know?

I’m not going to do this justice. But I don’t think people understand how amazing it is that Matt Carpenter changed himself as a hitter. This was long thought of as an impossible thing. If you pull the ball, you’ll always pull it. If you swing at everything, you’ll never learn to draw walks. Who you are is who you are. Hitters rarely change.

And it’s true. People rarely change. We all have these faults, these things we battle, and rarely are we successful. We give up easily. We don’t work hard enough. We don’t have it in us to change.

But Matt Carpenter woke up, and he changed. He lost weight. He worked hard. When the Cardinals wanted more gap power, Matt Carpenter studied and figured out how to give them more gap power.

I don’t know about you, but I find this incredibly admirable. He’s proof of what you and I could accomplish if you and I gave the effort that Matt Carpenter does to being the best he can be. If he can do it, why can’t we? Why won’t we? It’s this trait – his flexibility with who he is, and his determination to keep an open mind and working as hard as he can at improving himself is what makes Matt Carpenter my favorite Cardinal.

He showed it in 2011 when hear went out for Memphis and hit .300/.417/.463 earning a MLB promotion at the age of 25.

Here’s what he did in his first MLB game:

https://streamable.com/m/2249976383

He also hit a double off of Kerry Wood. Talk about a harbinger of things to come.

That’s Matt Carpenter’s back story. I hope you know his Cardinals story. In 2012 he finished 6th in ROY voting playing multiple positions as a platoon player – because David Freese was the supposed 3B of the future.

He has freaking Postseason heroics you’ve forgotten about. Here’s Game 3 of the 2012 NLCS, where he came in for an injured Beltran to hit a 2 run home run off of Matt Cain that proved to be the difference in the game.

Don’t remember that at all do you?

2013 the guy had to freaking change positions to 2B, not an easy thing at all, and wound up breaking Stan Musial’s record for most doubles by a left handed hitter. He earned his first All-Star appearance. The 240 pound Tommy John College junior was now an MLB All-Star. Incredible. He finished 4th in MVP voting. Oh, and he destroyed Clayton Kershaw in the playoffs. No, not THAT time.

This was the at bat that destroyed Kershaw and opened the floodgates. And it’s a freaking thing of beauty to watch Clayton Kershaw, the best pitcher of our time, find it impossible to take out Carpenter.

2014 Matt Carpenter, famous for sleeping with his bat and showing up 7 hours before a game, was extended on a team friendly deal in Spring Training. If you don’t recall, this allowed he and his wife to buy a 2nd car so that he could drive himself to the ballpark in the wee hours of the morning to practice. The guy doesn’t let anything stop him.

The year was a regression – after 2013, how could anything not be? But Matt continued his solid hitting and on-base skills, only to get to meet Kershaw again in the playoffs.

What did Matt Carpenter do against him? Hit a home run. Bet you forgot about that too. It’s only his next at bat people recall now:

It was after this when Matt Carpenter decided to change AGAIN and now into a power hitter. The guy who had 25 career home runs hit 28 the next season. Astounding. That’s not supposed to happen in baseball. He did it while leading the league in doubles, again.

In 2016 he was even better, in spite of an injury that stopped a career year.

In 2017 he slumped – for Matt Carpenter. And people went crazy. He hit .241, an outlier in his career, but for some reason a segment of fans decided that’s who he really was. They decided this while he put up the 2nd highest OBP of his career.

He played poor defense. He ran the bases terribly. He said some controversial quotes he’d have been better off keeping to himself.

He had a good year, and all players have down years, but that was ignored. One of the greatest Cardinals of our generation was becoming Ray Lankforded. He was becoming maligned. His achievements forgotten.

He vowed to get better. He didn’t want to be a slave to the home run. He wanted his defense to improve. He wanted his base running to improve. He’s Matt Carpenter. He worked his ass off.

And he started the year as slowly as he could have. Wondering if we were seeing a sudden decline was fair. The metrics all said he was hitting into bad luck – but the eye test told you he was lost and frustrated.

He entered May 16th batting .140. And I doubted Matt Carpenter. I thought he really was old before his time. I thought this really was the beginning of the end. So did you. I loved the guy though, I know he gives it his all, I know he battles all the way, and I knew he wasn’t THAT bad.

Since then: .330/.417/.660/1.076

We are seeing the very best Matt Carpenter at his very hottest.

Oh, and let’s not forget to mention that according to Fangraphs his defensive and base-running metrics have dramatically improved.

His offense has improved so much that in spite of 6 terrible weeks, he’s nearly putting up career best offensive numbers. The guy who wasn’t focused on home runs is 5 doubles and 6 home runs away from passing last year’s totals and his average is 17 points higher.

What the Hell more do you people want?

He ain’t going to be around forever. Someday he really will fade. Dammit if I wouldn’t be a moron for not fighting to see him in one more all-star game. It’s an exhibition game. Some think it’s for the best players of the 1st half. Somehow Carp has pulled himself up to deserve it. He’s been worth 3 WAR. 6 weeks ago he was a negative. Some people think it’s for the best players in the game. Carp has no doubt been that since 2012. Some people think it’s just about who you personally want to watch. How can a Cardinal fan not want to watch Matt Carpenter at his best? It’s mind boggling.

You tell me Matt Carpenter hasn’t given you some of your happiest moments as a baseball fan. It’s OK to admit it. You were fooled into some lazy narratives about Matt Carpenter. But Matt Carpenter has made you scream for joy maybe more than almost other player since 2011.

I’m looking for more of that. And I’m voting for him as a thank you. He’s worked his ass off and become one of the best Cardinals of this era. I can muster the energy to click a button out of appreciation.

Vote Carpenter:

https://www.mlb.com/all-star/final-vote

 

 

Main Sources:

https://sportsspectrum.com/sport/baseball/2018/05/08/cardinals-matt-carpenter-shares-his-story-of-sports-and-faith/

https://www.usatoday.com/story/sports/mlb/2015/05/07/matt-carpenter-cardinals-all-star-torii-hunter/70965644/

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/c/carpema01.shtml

http://www.thebaseballcube.com/players/profile.asp?ID=55399

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