The first quarter of the season did not go well for Matt Carpenter, to say the least. In the season’s first 35 games, Carpenter produced an atrocious .140/.286/.272 batting line, with more strikeouts than hits and walks combined, good for a 28.6K%. However, with the first quarter behind him, Carpenter seemingly broke out at the plate at Target Field last Wednesday, the 16th. That day, Carpenter was good for three hits, two doubles, a single, one RBI and one SO. Something clicked with Carpenter that day, in 26 plate appearances since then Carpenter has posted a gargantuan .542/.577/.958 batting line, boosting his .140 average to .210, with seven doubles, one more than he had the first 35 games. Even more, Carpenter has only struck out twice in that time, and boosted his wRC+ by 41 points, up to just above league average at 101. He did let his walk rate fall to just under eight percent, a respectable number for most, but a tumble of about nine percent nonetheless.
So what changed? Why has Carpenter suddenly switched from struggling mightily at the plate, to exceeding the Mendoza Line? I believe it entirely boils down his swing. Not his bat path, or launch angle, but the frequency in which he swings. As many Cardinals fans know, Carpenter is known for his batter’s eye, but the last two seasons something has been somewhat off. While Carpenter’s walk rate continually went up from 12.2% in 2015, to 17.5% in 2017, his overall offensive statistics went down, with a 139 wRC+ in 2015, to 123 in 2017. Still respectable, but still off from his best offensive showing and it has carried over into 2018, with a 60 wRC+ in those first 35 games. I’ve found that Carpenter’s biggest problem is how often he’s even trying to put the ball in play. In the first 35 games this season, Carpenter overall has swung at 33.3% of the pitches he’s seen, and 50.2% of pitches in the zone (Z-Swing). For comparison, in 2015 Carpenter swung at 38.9% of all pitches, and 60.1% of the pitches in the zone. A ten percent decrease in swings inside the zone and, somehow almost coincidentally, an almost nine percent decrease in overall contact in that time, from 80.2% to 71.6%. So how does this tie into Carpenter’s sudden jolt of offense? Carpenter has swung 12.3% more at pitches in the zone, and six and a half percent more overall. This has resulted in a 16.8% increase in contact, from 71.6% to 88.4%, even above his 2015 percentage of 80.2%.
While this current production is somewhat unsustainable, it isn’t far fetched to believe that, provided he continues to trust his swing, he can play at or above his 2015 levels. In 2015, Carpenter had a hard-hit ball percentage (Hard%) of 37.0%, which he has raised to 45.9%, a gain of nearly nine percent. He’s also cut down his ground-ball percentage by about three percent, and his soft-hit ball percentage (Soft%) by two percent. Carpenter is making better contact than before, and is still seeing the ball better. His walk rate is still a healthy 15.1%. All signs point to Carpenter producing more than he has been this season, and I believe we’re just about to start seeing what Carpenter can be capable of. The key to Carpenter’s success lies entirely within his ability to swing the bat.