Matt Carpenter for NL Rookie of the Year: Fan Take

Yahoo Contributor Network

I know it's early in the 2012 Major League Baseball season and there is plenty of baseball yet to played. Yet the surprise of the St. Louis Cardinals has been rookie Matt Carpenter. His batting average is .321 over 28 at bats in 11 games.

Although not as proficient as Steve Lombardozzi of the Washington Nationals with a .471 batting average thus far, Carpenter gets my early vote for the NL's Rookie of the Year.

Carpenter's .321 average is a bit misleading. Until an 0-for-4 performance April 19 in a 6-3 loss to the Cincinnati Reds, his BA was .375 with a slugging percentage of .750.

Lombardozzi may have a better over average, but Carpenter gets more timely hits. The 11 RBIs are tops in the National League among rookies, according to MLB's top rookie tracker. The last time Carpenter had such a high batting average was for the AA Springfield Cardinals, with a .316 average over 105 games in 2010 in the Texas League.

The absence of Albert Pujols is barely registering. David Freese leads the Cardinals with 13 RBIs and has a scorching .375 average. The second place guy in RBI totals is the up-and-comer Carpenter, who had just 15 at bats in seven games a year ago.

The key for Carpenter will be to stay healthy. For some reason, younger players haven't been able to stay off the DL. Last year, Freese and Allen Craig struggled through injuries. Both guys are young talent who were key to the Cardinals' World Series win.

This time last season, fans were complaining of a lack of hitting on the part of St. Louis. Pujols was in a slump. NBC Sports showed video of then-manager Tony La Russa quitting a press conference early after he felt there were enough questions about the Cardinals' lack of offense.

Those questions are gone. The Cardinals lead the National League with a team batting average of .293. The next closest National League team are the Colorado Rockies with a .267 average.

Carpenter is second in RBIs on the NL Central Division leaders. For early buzz on the Rookie of the Year, Carpenter has got to be considered a favorite.

Even better is that no one predicted the St. Louis Cardinals to do this well so early in the season. Pitcher Adam Wainwright leads the team in strikeouts yet hasn't won a game. Wainwright has been tagged for three of the four losses thus far on the season.

But the story of the Cardinals thus far hasn't been pitching or defense. The offense has come alive thanks in part to some unlikely early-season production from an unheralded rookie.

William Browning was born in St. Louis and is a lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan. He currently resides in Branson, Mo.

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