Fantasy Baseball

Is Matt Carpenter still a top-10 at first base

Keeper and Dynasty league owners were dealt a blow last month with the Cardinals announced that they will move Matt Carpenter across the diamond to play first base in 2017. Carpenter was tied with Alex Bregman for sixth in our recent dynasty third base rankings, although half the panel view him as a bottom-10 option. With the move to first base, how does Carpenter stack up against the rest of the field?

Just like at third base he has little chance of cracking the top portion of the rankings. Goldschmidt, Rizzo and Cabrera are entrenched in the top three spots. Encarnacion’s power is rarely matched, and Joey Votto is on another plane when it comes to hitting. Freddie Freeman is sandwiched between that group – whether you agree or not – so the top-tier is rounded out.

But what about the next tier? Let’s do a little number comparison and see how Carpenter stacks up against the bottom half of the top-12. I’ll use the last two years as an average since 2015 is when Carpenter came into his own in the power department. I’ll also use our default first base dynasty rankings just like with the top-6 to determine the order.

player Run HR RBI BA OBP
Abreu 78 28 101 .292 .350
Myers 70 18 62 .257 .336
Hosmer 89 22 99 .281 .345
Davis 100 43 101 .241 .347
Hanley 70 25 77 .271 .337
Santana 81 27 86 .246 .361
Carpenter 91 25 76 .271 .371

Power wise Carpenter is on par with all but Davis. He rank towards the bottom for RBIs, but he more than makes up for that with runs thanks in part to that big OBP number. The batting average is middle of the pack and has little chance of bouncing back to its pre 2014 level. A .271 mark is still acceptable, just don’t expect much more than that.

So where does Carpenter fit in? Well, Abreu has him in three of four categories which pushes Carpenter down to 8th. If Carpenter were still a .300 hitter I might argue a little more. You could make a case with Myers as Carpenter has the advantage across the board, However, Myers is younger, came into his own in 2016, and has the speed factor – something very few first baseman can be counted on for. Many will give Myers the benefit of the doubt, so we’ll go with the masses and bump Carpenter down another notch to 9th.

Eric Hosmer looks to be the final hurdle. He clearly has the RBI advantage over Carpenter. He also has the edge with batting average. Some will point to the .266 last season as a reason to put them on the same level. The difference is, a .266 batting average represents Hosmer’s floor, but that .271 is Carpenters ceiling. Those handful of combined home runs and runs scored are not enough to put Carpenter over Hosmer, but an argument can (and I’m sure will) be made.

Hosmer may not bump Carpenter out of the top-10 in some eyes, but I think Chris Davis does. I know Davis is a batting average drain, but his power potential is unmatched by everyone in this tier. He is also the only hitter other than Abreu with multiple 100 RBI seasons in the past three years. In addition, Davis can match Carpenter in the run scoring department. That’s three out of four categories – and that is enough statistically to push Carpenter to #10.

So Carpenter may be a bottom top-10 option, or he could be out of the top-10 all together if you prefer Hosmer over him. That leaves Carpenter to match up with Hanley and Santana in an attempt to at least stick in the top-12. I could write another 500 words just on comparison of these three players alone: pros and cons, home parks, surrounding cast, track record, etc.., For this year I’d take Carpenter for his position eligibility. But beyond that, with all things being equal – it’s really a matter of opinion.

Carpenter is a borderline top-12 first baseman going forward, or close to it. The question I have is how long he can maintain that level given his new approach at the plate.

Like I mentioned above, Carpenter used to be a solid .300 hitter. However, starting in 2015 he did what many hitters before him have, sold out his contact for more power. The once elite contact rate which bordered on 90 percent was down to 80 and 82 percent the past two seasons. That’s still good, but nowhere near what we’ve come to expect. That lost contact has come from outside the zone, which can be good, except he’s not swinging any less there.

Compare his heatmaps from before and after he adjusted things for his new power swing. The approach change has cost him the outside of the plate. Carpenter used to be dangerous no matter where you threw the ball. Now there are some obvious holes to exploit.

In addition to pitchers eventually taking advantage, fielders will be able to do so as well in the form of a shift. Carpenter used to spread the ball out evenly to all fields. Little by little, even before he started hitting for power, the ball was going the opposite way less frequently. Last year he went to the opposite field less than 20 percent, and his pull rate was all the way up to 48 percent. Now this might be good for his power game, but look at all those red and green dots on the right side of the infield in 2016.

Carpenter’s fly ball rate is over 40 percent the past two years, and his hard hit rate has spiked as well. What you need to consider is what happens when that hard hit rate and ISO fall. The contact rate is already suffering, the strikeout percentage has gone from the mid teens to above 20, and the swinging strikeout rate is nearly double his 2013-2014 average. And while he is hitting the ball harder and in the air more frequently, his average fly ball distance still remains at 280 feet.

It’s hard to argue with the results Carpenter has generated the past two years. In the same breath, the rest of the league now has two full years of data on the new Matt Carpenter. Will we see more shifts? Will pitchers begin to exploit those parts of the plate Carpenter seems to be more vulnerable at? And if these things do happen, how will Carpenter react. Will he continue to swing hard for the fences, and if he does will he become so far removed from the hitter he once was that he won’t be able to adjust back to being that reliable hitter we once knew.

I loved Carpenter as a second baseman. I found him acceptable as a third baseman. As a first baseman, though, given the comparable talent at the bottom of the top-12, and even a few players outside that top-12 – I think this is his final year having significant value. Once he losses his eligibility at second and third base he becomes an average option. And, once he loses a little bat speed or teams adjust to his pull happy ways, things have the potential to get ugly.

If I am an owner in a keeper or dynasty league, I’m using that multi-eligibility and new power stroke to sell high and sell now. You may curse me at some point this season if he goes on to have a productive year, but you’ll thank me in the long run. It’s better to sell a player a year or two early than take a loss when you’re a year late.


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By Jim Finch

The self proclaimed Grand High Exhausted Mystic Ruler of Fantasy Baseball. While I am not related to Jennie or Sidd Finch, I will attempt to uphold the integrity of the Finch family name as it relates to baseball.