COMMENTARY | Matt Carpenter's bid for an All-Star selection at second base may ultimately fall short behind incumbent Brandon Phillips and San Francisco Giants fan-favorite Marco Scutaro -- but if fans were allowed to vote by batting order, the St. Louis Cardinals infielder would be a shoo-in.
Permanently moved into the leadoff spot when Cardinals center fielder Jon Jay struggled, Carpenter's patient approach, contact rate (91.1%) and line-drive percentage (27.7%) have proven a perfect match for baseball's most efficient run-scoring offense.
Getting On Base
Carpenter's offensive stats from the No. 1 spot are eye-opening. His .357 batting average through June 7 easily leads all National League leadoff hitters (minimum 75 PA). Chris Denorfia (.311), Gerardo Parra (.308), Carl Crawford (.307) and Norichika Aoki (.297) round out a distant top five.
Such an elite hit rate paired with a second-best 1.31 walk to strikeout ratio (BB/K) -- Aoki is No. 1 with 1.58 and Shin-Soo Choo is No. 3 with 0.75 -- puts Matt's .444 on-base percentage ahead of Choo's .431 OBP and Dexter Fowler's .413 OBP for the best among NL leadoff hitters. No other qualified hitter in the National League comes close (Crawford is No. 4 with a .368 OBP).
Racking Up Hits
The Cardinals' efforts to turn the natural third baseman into a middle infielder -- a move aimed at getting his bat into the lineup on a regular basis -- seems to be paying off. Through June 7, Carpenter's 76 hits is second only to Jean Sugura (78) in the National League and good enough for the No. 6 spot in all of baseball. His 19 doubles, tied for fourth in baseball, are tied for first in the National League with Daniel Murphy and Gerardo Parra. And his current 15-game hitting streak is the second-longest active streak in the National League, one game behind teammate David Freese (16).
Among National League leadoff hitters, his hit totals are even more impressive.
In just 154 at-bats at the top of the order, Carpenter has amassed 55 hits, a total that positions him in sixth place among all NL leadoff hitters. Gerardo Parra sits in fifth place with one more hit (56) in 28 more at-bats (182). Every other NL leadoff hitter with more hits than Carpenter's 55 has done so with more than 200 at-bats in the No. 1 spot -- Aoki (229 AB, 68 hits), Starling Marte (225 AB, 62 hits), Choo (217 AB, 60 hits) and Denard Span (224 AB, 60 hits).
Just for fun, that's a cumulative total of 306 hits in 1,077 at-bats by the five NL leadoff hitters ahead of Carpenter -- a hit every 3.52 at-bats. By comparison, Carpenter's 55 hits in 154 at-bats is currently producing a base hit every 2.80 at-bats, the best hit rate among all six NL leadoff men (Parra comes closest with a hit rate of 3.25).
A Little Pop in the Leadoff Spot
When Carpenter was still a promising third baseman in Triple-A Memphis, the Cardinals organization, looking to increase his value at a corner infield position, encouraged him to tweak his swing just a bit to produce more power. Although his improved power numbers never quite established him as a middle-of-the-order hitter, they're now proving to be a valuable asset as a leadoff-hitting second baseman.
Carpenter's .500 slugging percentage as a number one hitter through June 7 is third best in the National League, just behind Parra's .505 SLG and Fowler's .529 SLG. Combined with his league-leading leadoff OBP, his .944 OPS from the leadoff position is the best OPS among all NL leadoff hitters with at least 75 plate appearances at the top of the order.
For an offense that relies on getting hitters on base, Carpenter's performance in the leadoff spot can't be overstated. Despite a late start, his 33 runs scored from the leadoff spot is the fourth highest total among all NL leadoff hitters. His 25 runs scored in the last 30 days is tied for the most in Major League Baseball regardless of position or batting order, a total ahead of MVP candidates like Joey Votto, Paul Goldschmidt, Mike Trout and Miguel Cabrera.
According to ESPN.com, his 46.7 runs created is sixth-most in the National League, and his 8.13 runs created over 27 outs (RC27) is seventh. But from the leadoff position, that RC27 jumps to 9.51 -- the best among all leadoff hitters in the NL.
It's no wonder Carpenter's 3.3 WAR (per Fangraphs) is tied for fifth-best in all of baseball with Colorado shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, and why he's quickly developing a reputation as the best leadoff hitter in the National League.
Kevin Reynolds is the author of Stl Cards 'N Stuff and host of The State of the Nation Address podcast every Sunday evening at Cards 'N Stuff. He's been writing and podcasting about the St. Louis Cardinals since 2007 and can be found chatting about baseball on Twitter (@deckacards).
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