“If you’re going to hit in the big leagues, you gotta learn how to hit in the fetal position.” – Lance Berkman
Matt Carpenter addressed the media today at the Cardinals Winter Warmup and stated the quote from his ex-teammate rings true when looking back at last season. Carpenter admittedly felt like he was in the hole prior to stepping into the box for a majority of the regular season. He slowly began to feel more comfortable, but the playing time just wasn’t there. Other players, such as Tommy Edman, helped turn the Cardinals season around and lead a resurgent Cardinals to their first playoff appearance since 2015. Looking back, his struggle on the field has been a learning moment for him personally and professionally.
Health has been an issue that Carpenter and the Cardinals training staff have battled the last few seasons. During Spring Training, Carpenter told reporters today that he never really felt 100% healthy. He rushed back to the lineup to be available for Opening Day, and believes that led to some of the issues he faced early on in the season. This was apparent prior to the start of the season at the exhibition game versus the Memphis Redbirds. Carpenter was not with the team and stayed back in Jupiter to get more at bats. Clearly, he wasn’t “right”.
During the Offseason, Carpenter has focused on building strength, rather than just maintaining muscle which had been his primary focus last season. Heading into Spring Training, he feels stronger and healthier than he did at this point last year. The question remains though, will the Cardinals and Carpenter allow time for a full recovery the next time his back or shoulder don’t feel right? Time will tell.
“The way the year went for me, I felt like it just kind of snowballed. At times, I was trying to save a season with one swing and it wasn’t a recipe for success.”
Health has been a concern for Carpenter during his career, but his approach at the plate has been more alarming. The offseason has given him the opportunity to take a step back, and reexamine his approach at the plate. After talking to a few other players that he is close to, the biggest topic that kept coming up was his change from a line drive hitter to the all or nothing homerun approach. He believes that the true hitter that he knows he can be is somewhere in the middle of those two. After starting out in such a deep hole last year, the hole just seemed to keep getting deeper and his stats continued to fall. Carpenter finished the year .226/.334/.726, and the extra base hits that he is known for dropped significantly as well from 78 the previous season to just 35. The shift has been attributed to Carpenter’s struggles of late, and by some metrics it appears to have impacted him more than any other player in the league. Carpenter emphasized that going back to a more line drive focused approach, while taking what the defense gives you is something he will be trying to do more this upcoming season.
“I wouldn’t have hit .230 last year if I knew what was coming.”
Carpenter assured reporters that the Cardinals were not using technology to relay what pitches were being thrown by the opposition. In his opinion, sign stealing is part of the game, but technology should not be part of cracking that code. When a player knows what’s coming, and is confident, Carpenter believes it’s nearly impossible to not get a hit.
The Cardinals organization appears to believe Carpenter is not the 2019 version that we all saw spiral towards a bench role at the end of the season. Some fans will say this is because of the amount of money they’ve invested in him. While it’s true that teams will give players with larger contracts a longer leash, we’ve seen that at some point that leash runs out. Winning matters. The front office is hoping that this expression of confidence will have a positive effect on Carpenter much like it did on Fowler the previous offseason. Cardinals fans certainly are hoping Carpenter has a few magical moments left in him like the summer of 2018 against the Cubs, but during October instea