Whether you love the St. Louis Cardinals, hate them, or know very little about them because the media continually shuns them, there is one name that is quickly becoming a household one among baseball fans: Matt Carpenter.
Of course, when you hear “Cardinals” and “Carpenter,” you might think of Chris Carpenter, the feisty pitcher who helped lead the Cards to two World Series titles during his nine-year stint in St. Louis. But the transition of Carpenters has been a seamless one.
At Texas Christian University, Carpenter’s future in baseball almost wilted when he ballooned to 240 pounds. Facing a crossroads in his career and his life, he dedicated himself to baseball more than ever and the Cardinals took him in the 13th round of the 2009 draft. What they have now is a bona fide superstar and, quite possibly, your 2015 National League Most Valuable Player.
The numbers for Carpenter between 2014 and an admittedly small sample size in 2015 are night and day. But Carpenter, who finished fourth in MVP balloting in 2013 when the Cardinals won the pennant, didn’t need a massive postseason crush to prove his value. Though his “basic” numbers were somewhat pedestrian in the 2014 regular season – .272 average, .375 OBP, 111
strikeouts – he still managed to lead the league in walks (95), plate appearances (709), and pitches seen per at-bat (4.37) while earning his second consecutive All-Star nod.
Then came the postseason. The Cardinals, who ranked last in the National League and 29th in baseball in home runs during the regular year with just 105, started blasting them left and right. Of the 10 dingers they smacked
in nine playoff games, Carpenter hit four, equaling half his regular season total of eight.
Perhaps buoyed by that, Carpenter is arguably the hottest hitter in baseball through one month of the 2015 season, except for maybe his teammate, Matt Holliday. Carpenter batted leadoff in all 156 games he started last season, and has hit first in 18 of his team’s first 21 games this season. Though not a
prototypical leadoff hitter in terms of his speed – he has just nine career stolen bases – his penchant for hitting doubles and getting on base in general is uncanny.
Through 21 games in 2015, Carpenter is leading the league in doubles (13) and runs scored (21) while batting .372 getting on base at a .438 clip. He is batting .538 with runners in scoring position and .455 with runners on base while seeing 4.19 pitches per at-bat.
The Cardinals are once again lagging in the power department, proving that a 2014 season in which they scored the fewest runs by a division winner in over four decades was no fluke. They are a much better offense than their runs per game and home run numbers will tell you, but still heavily reliant on
Carpenter’s ability to get on base, wear down pitchers, and drive in
runs when the opportunity presents itself.
So much of the Cardinals’ success can be attributed to the game’s deepest pitching staff. But Adam Wainwright, the club’s ace and arguably one of the top three pitchers in baseball, tore his Achilles last week and is lost for the season. This only enhances Carpenter’s value as the offense will need to kick
it up a notch in Waino’s absence.
It isn’t hard to envision that Carpenter will continue his stellar play all year, even if the projections that his early-season numbers are carrying are
unrealistic. You won’t see him on any Subway commercials like Mike
Trout. He won’t drive in 110 runs like Miguel Cabrera. And he won’t go all Barry Bonds and challenge the 50/50 club. But he will be the primary cog in an offense that grinds out at-bats as well as anyone in baseball on a team that will undoubtedly be playing in October for a fifth straight year.
Even on May 1, it doesn’t feel too soon to anoint Carpenter as your 2015 NL MVP.