HOUSTON’S ONE TRICK PONY

I never had a pony. Now, I never asked my parents for a pony so I am not all that sad at the fact that I was never given one, but had I asked, the odds of me getting one were lower than a snowball’s chance in hell. See, when I was in my youth (not so long ago, so watch it!) the pony was the clichéd ridiculously extravagant, expensive gift for a child. The pony was the elusive grand gift for children. Apparently kids love ponies. Why wouldn’t they, right? I mean you can pet their hair and ride them! What’s not to love?! Having one was also a status symbol. If a kid had a pony, their family was probably pretty darn loaded. Not loaded enough to own a giraffe, maybe, but loaded nonetheless. Suffice it to say, no one I know ever had a pony, but unlike Seinfeld, I don’t necessarily hate anyone who did. I said necessarily. Sure is a lot of pony talk for a fantasy baseball site, eh? Well, stick with me, I’m going somewhere with this.

Owning a pony could still be pretty darned cool. Maybe you don’t even think about it, but even today, sitting here in my 30s, if I owned a pony you would probably say, “WOW! That guy has a pony? He must be quite rich and powerful.” Having one alone would be most kid’s dream, right there. So does the pony really need to do tricks? You would think the pony performing just one trick would be more than enough. But alas, most kids are greedy and selfish, or so I’m told. That being the case, those with the status ponies would need ways to distinguish their pony from the rest of the “pony club” (sounds like a terrible sandwich). Without echelons to determine’s who is best, where would we be as a society? Exactly. So, soon enough, having a pony was not enough and said ponies would need to distinguish themselves with tricks and a one trick pony became bottom of the barrel in the pony-owning world. That is where we may have (but probably didn’t) come up with the phrase “one trick pony”. The Astros Chris Carter is considered to be just that, a one trick pony.

Sure, sure, given my druthers I’d rather have a pony that could perform four or five tricks, but I’d still be the toast of my social circle if I had a pony that could perform one trick. Heck, in my social circle, just having a pony, one trick or no trick, would be an awe-inspiring thing. Most of you probably know that to be true in your social circles as well. So what exactly is wrong with a one trick pony? Especially if that one trick is like, ya know, really really good like finishing second in the majors in home runs? That is the one trick, Astros pony, Chris Carter performed in 2014.

Yes, in 2014, only Nelson Cruz hit more homers than Chris Carter. We know the power has always been there for Carter and also that he has been a pretty much all or nothing hitter. Carter was simply a late round guy you draft to pad your team’s home run total. Notice how I snuck the “was” in there? Carter may still be a one trick pony, but he’s been perfecting that trick and now it is a must see. Homers are nice and, you could argue, home run hitters are the most valuable of fantasy baseball commodities. That is because, well, with homers come other stats, namely RBIs and runs. Carter posted career highs in both those categories in 2014 and will look to improve on both in 2015. Carter is not exactly fleet of foot, so any increase in runs will be fairly minimal, but 70-75 runs seems attainable and decent enough. RBIs is where we could blossom a bit more.

I am not entirely sure what the Astros lineup will look like with the newly added Evan Gattis, but according to Roster Resource Carter should be in the cleanup spot behind Jose Altuve, George Springer and Dexter Fowler. Those three had an OBP of .377, .336 and .375 respectively in 2014 which is a lot of baserunners for a big hulking home run hitter. At the very least, we should expect Carter to match his 2014 RBI total of 88, but I feel like he can push that number a bit closer to triple digits. Now I know what you’re thinking, “yeah, everyone knows that 15 minutes can save you 15% or more on car insurance, but Carter isn’t exactly a contact hitter.” Okay, okay, fair enough, but I mentioned the one trickedness of this particular pony, right?

Well, everyone does know that Carter is a large slugger, but did you know he started to make better contact in 2014? As the 2014 season progressed, Carter was chasing outside pitches a bit less than usual. Carter is not Jose Altuve all of a sudden, but slightly more discipline, assuming it keeps up, should lead to slightly fewer strikeouts. Not only was there slightly less chasing, but there was also slightly more contact for pitches in the zone and when Carter makes contact baseballs tend to go airborne.

In 2014, Carter sent over half of his batted balls into the air, a five percent increase over his 2013 number in that category. Now, often an increase in fly ball rates will cut into line drive rate, pointing to more lazy flies and fewer rockets that end up in the bleachers, but not with Mr. Carter. There was a mild drop in the line drive rate with the increase in fly balls, but the real nugget of goodness here is Carter actually cut down on his grounders by about three percent. Some think this can be attributed to a new shortened swing, which make me think Carter’s .252 average in the second half of 2014 may not be smoke and mirrors. Again, Carter is not an Altuve or Ichiro contact hitter by any stretch of the imagination, but .252 is a nice number for someone with a career .222 average. Now, we haven’t seen the decent average sustained over a full season yet and I get that, but I think he at least tops the .240 mark in 2015.

Look, I am not ready to put Carter in the top ten for first baseman, but I predict a .246/.333/.475 line with 35-40 homers, and roughly 90-95 RBIs. Decent enough numbers for a guy you can probably get in the 9th round or later. I do still place Carter just outside the top 12 for first basemen because, well, first base is still a fairly stacked position. That being said, if Carter has first base eligibility in your league, you should still be grabbing him as your utility and first backup at the first base slot. The bold-ish prediction here is that Chris Carter ends the season ranked in the top 75 overall. Yep, you heard me. Hey, I said, bold-ish. With 40 homer potential maybe it’s not that far-fetched, right?

Will Emerson

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Affectionately know by close friends as Willie Moe, Will is back living in Boston after brief, 11 year stint, in upstate New York. Will loves numbers and baseball, so it is no surprise that he has been addicted to fantasy baseball for over two decades. That’s right, Will was playing fantasy baseball since before the internet was providing up to the minute stats and standings, and you had to get your hands inky checking box scores in the newspaper.

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