Why mess with something that works? All I have heard on social media and the radio lately is that Matt Carpenter can be better utilized outside of the leadoff spot. What? A place that he has dominated since being inserted there last season. This outcry comes from the fact that the Cardinals offense simply hasn’t picked up speed, whether it be hitting with RISP or general individual performance decline. When things go wrong, people want to make solutions out of anything. Here is the one thing that isn’t in need of change folks. Matt Carpenter in the leadoff spot.
First, let’s begin with the idea of a leadoff man. The object of every leadoff man isn’t to steal bases or be able to run super fast from 1st or 3rd base. The first priority is getting on base. Carpenter thrives at that task. Everybody knows about his amazing 2013 season where he cranked 50+ doubles, scored over 120 runs, and accumulated enough hits to make you forget about the last great leadoff hitter in Cardinal history. Carpenter was amazing and became a much needed table setter for the clutch Cardinals offense. Allen Craig needs a guy like Carp to get on base and pad his RBI totals. I am sick and tired of hearing that the Cards need speed in the leadoff spot and Carpenter is more useful in the #2 or #3 hole. WRONG. Carp is fine where he is and here is why.
Carpenter gets on base. A lot. He has a .395 on base percentage and leads the Cards in hits with 73. Carpenter works the count, keeps his strikeouts down and takes his walks. Yes, he can drive runners in with ease too, which we saw in last night’s 5-2 extra win where Carpenter collected 5 hits, reached base 6 times and did all of this from the leadoff spot. Why change that?
Kolten Wong shows zero guarantee of being able to get on base like Carpenter so he should not be put there. Sure, he is fast but if he can’t get on base at a .400 clip, then why throw him into a spot where he won’t be as good as the guy he replaces. Peter Bourjos is fast but can’t get on base enough. Seeing Peter post a .330 OBP would be nice much less a rate closer to .400. There isn’t a player on this team better suited to the leadoff position than Carpenter. He isn’t the problem and never was. Early on, Carp was striking out a little more than usual and that got people up in arms. Looking at the charts, one can plainly tell Carpenter was the victim of unfortunate called third strikes. More than half his caught looking strikeouts came on pitches that were actually outside the strike zone. That was a product of bad umpire judgement and not Carpenter losing his way.
Take this for example. In his last 10 games, Carpenter has raised his average from .276 to .307. In his last 5 games, he hasn’t struck out while drawing four walks. He has five multi-hit games in that time period. Carpenter has been heating up since the middle of May and is setting the table for this offense. He got on base 6 times last night, and due to the team’s lack of clutch hitting, only scored twice. What does that tell you? There is a problem with this lineup but it doesn’t exist in the leadoff spot.
Mike Matheny has crafted around 50 lineups this year but the one smart thing he has done so far is leave Carpenter alone. Matheny isn’t going to mess with the one thing that has been consistent. If it isn’t broke, why try to fix it?
It would be nice to have Matt Holliday hit fly balls past the warning track. It would be nice to tell Jhonny Peralta he doesn’t have to always swing at the first pitch. I would advise the passionate Yadi Molina to resist slamming his helmet because it may fly up and crack an umpire in the head. I would Oscar Taveras to become an even bigger free swinger right now. The one thing I wouldn’t advise is telling Matt Carpenter he isn’t hitting leadoff tonight. What damage would that do to his head when he is doing so well in that spot?
The Cardinals have played ugly, uneven and disappointing baseball in 2014. Everyone(including myself) is forecasting change and potential solutions. It’s a by product of being a hardcore fan, a passionate writer or a pure addict. You want to produce a winning theory when the team isn’t able to win. I get that wholeheartedly.
Trust me on this theory. Messing with a great thing isn’t the answer. Leave Matt Carpenter in the leadoff spot.