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Checking back in on Matt Carpenter's production vs LHP

In February, based on a comment in the 2018 Baseball Prospectus Annual, I wrote about Matt Carpenter's 2017 numbers versus left-handed pitchers. They weren't good. In 137 plate appearances, he had a slash line of .202/.343/.321, good for a wRC+ of 85. As shown here, he hit for virtually no power, and ended the season with only eight extra-base hits against lefties, including just two home runs.

This was only notable because Carpenter had traditionally been a well-above average hitter against lefties and the fear was that maybe the skill was eroding with age. At the time, I concluded that it probably wasn't a big deal, but rather one of those curious things that can happen during a span of so few plate appearances. Luck may have been a factor, too. From that column:

However, if you look at Carpenter's batted ball profile, he had 37.5 percent hard contact against lefties in 2017, which was actually a career high. He was squaring up lefties just fine, but the hits too often found a glove. That happens. And there's nothing else all that notable in the splits that jumps out. Carpenter did strikeout a lot against lefties last year - 23.4% - but that's an actual decrease from 2015, and not an offensive diversion from his career marks.

Since we're now past the mid-way point, let's check back in on Carpenter's numbers when he doesn't have the platoon advantage. First off, this accounts for only 76 plate appearances, so few a number that his next five to ten at-bats could change the narrative a bit. But with that said, Carpenter so far has returned to his 2013-2016 form (although he probably never actually left). He's hitting .203/.329/.453, with a wRC+ of 114, a few ticks above his career 112 mark against lefties. Ignore the batting average, his slugging and wRC+ are within or hovering right around the top ten for left-handed hitters in the National League against lefty pitchers (min 60 PA), a club that's dominated by Freddie Freeman.

Carpenter is succeeding mostly by hitting the cover off the ball when making contact. Eight extra-base hits, including four home runs, with FanGraphs listing the hard contact at 52.3 percent. And there stands a chance he's still been unlucky, too. His batting average on balls in play against lefties is .225, more than 70 points below his career average and the third lowest in the NL. Maybe that's just the result of well-executed shifts, but that rotten luck thing probably has at least a little to do with it. So sleep tight, Carpenter is fine.

Off topic, it's almost fascinating to think back on what his stats looked like not even two months ago (.140/.286/.272 on May 15 compared to .258/.365/.513 today). Oddly, the team was in a better place then but for completely different reasons entirely, and I shudder to think what we'd be talking about today had Carpenter not bounced back like must of us assumed that he would. Now it's shaping up to be another season in which he's the team's most important player as so often has been the case since Carpenter broke out in 2013.

But because that slow start left those who are not closely paying attention with a bad taste in their mouths - to say nothing of the despondency of the entire team - Carpenter is currently on the outside looking in for All-Star voting. A little extra rest is never the worst thing for a player who has driven himself to serious fatigue in the past, but he deserves to be there so you should vote for him anyway.


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