Listening to Cardinals radio call in shows, reading Cardinals Facebook groups, or reading Cardinals Twitter, and you might get the sense that Matt Carpenter's new extension (in which he will earn $39M in 2020 and 2021) is already a bust - obviously along with the rest of the 2019 season. This sounds oh so familiar to a refrain from last year about another polarizing St. Louis Cardinal, Dexter Fowler. You see, Dexter Fowler is a player that the Cardinals brought in at the beginning of the 2017 season for Dex's 9th season in the majors. His 2017 season turned out to be the season in his career in which he posted both his best ISO and best SLG numbers, despite being initially brought in to be the leadoff hitter. He posted his 2nd highest OPS+ of his career and his 4th highest fWAR of his career.
In the 7 seasons from 2011-2017, Fowler averaged a 114 OPS+.
In the 5 seasons from 2013-2017, Fowler averaged a 115 OPS+.
In the 3 seasons from 2015-2017, Fowler averaged a 117 OPS+.
In the 2017 season, Fowler had a 122 OPS+.
Then 2018 happened. He was all of a sudden a shell of his former self. He had an OPS+ of 59. Yes, that's just a five followed by a nine. But we know all of this. I don't want to rehash what happened, or why, unnecessarily.
Here's what I want to do with that information, using his OPS+ numbers from those 8 seasons. His 2018 season was 51.6% worse than his 2017 season. His 2018 season was 49.6% worse than his 2015-2017 seasons combined. His 2018 season was 48.7% worse than his 2013-2017 seasons combined. And lastly, his 2018 season was 48.2% worse than his 2011-2017 seasons combined. This happened in Fowler's age 32 season.
In 2019, Fowler has bounced back in a real way. As of the morning of (prior to the game) July 28th, Fowler has a 101 OPS+. Of all of those percentages of points Fowler lost in 2018, he recouped quite a lot of them this year. His 2018 did not become his new norm, by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, Fowler seems re-energized in the field this year to me as well - easily having his best year defensively as a Cardinal outfielder (2017-present). Here's how much of his OPS+ he recouped per above grouping:
66.7% of his 2017 numbers alone.
72.4% of his 2015-17 numbers.
75% of his 2013-2017 numbers.
76.4% of his 2011-2017 numbers.
So what does that have to do with Matt Carpenter? Well, Carpenter, similarly, had an incredibly good prior season (this time 2018) by the overall numbers. He had an OPS+ of 144, which was the highest of his career. From 2016-18, Carpenter had a 134 OPS+. From 2014-2018, Carpenter had a 129 OPS+. From 2012-2018, Carpenter had a 131 OPS+. The dude has flat out raked - even more so than the former player listed in this article.
This year, again as of the morning of July 28th, 2019, Matt Carpenter is on the Injured List with an 84 OPS+. That's not a death knell like a 59 OPS+ seen above with Fowler's numbers, but for someone so instrumental in the club's success over the last 7 seasons, it looks both 1) really bad and 2) worse when you consider that, like Fowler, he plays average-ish at best defense. Again similarly to Fowler's 2017 numbers, Carpenter's 2018 numbers showed him with his highest SLG and ISO of his career at age 32. Carpenter's fWAR was the 3rd highest of his career and as I mentioned, his OPS+ was the best of his career.
Matt Carpenter's current 84 OPS+ (which should change for the better or worse at some point this year because he's due back fairly soon with about 2 months to play) represents a change from prior years:
41.7% worse than his 2018 numbers,
37.3% worse than his 2016-18 numbers,
34.9% worse than his 2014-18 numbers,
and 35.9% worse than his 2012-18 numbers.
How much will Matt Carpenter bounce back if his bounce back looks like Dexter Fowler's?
To do that, we're going to have to compile stats a little bit. The percent of OPS+ points that Dexter lost averages out to 49.6% and he averaged getting back 72.4% of his OPS+ points (just by doing a simple arithmetic mean of the % changes I gave you earlier. If we apply that same process to Carpenter, he has lost about 37.5% of his value in OPS+ this year. If Carpenter gets back 72.4% of those points, then we will see a Carpenter bounce back to a 121 OPS+ next year. Let's put that number into context. Matt Carpenter had a 120 OPS+ in 2017. He hit .241/.384/.451/.835 that year. Dexter Fowler had a 122 OPS+ in 2017. He hit .264/.363/.488/.851 that year. Would you find it acceptable for Carpenter to come back and hit somewhere in between .241-.264 while getting on base at around a 37% clip and slugging around .465? That'd be a .200ish ISO with a .370ish OBP. That's pretty darn good, you guys.
Matt Carpenter's hypothetical 2020 bounce back season:
.250/.370/.465/.835 - 121 OPS+.
What does a 121 OPS+ look like in 2019 numbers? Michael Conforto has a .251/.356/.469/.825 line with a 121 OPS+ and Renato Nunez has a .256/.326/.521/.847 line with a 121 OPS+. That Conforto line looks quite similar to the one that I proposed above. If you add 14 points of OBP but subtract a few points of SLG that'd put you pretty close to what I believe could happen with a Matt Carpenter bounce back based on the current numbers from 2019 and numbers in seasons prior to that (based on Fowler's 2019 bounce back from 2018 and prior numbers).