Chris Carter Isn't Getting Any Perks From Being a Reigning Home Run Champion
The game of baseball and how MLB organizations value talent is changing right in front of our eyes. A perfect case study to look at includes two sluggers who reigned supreme when it came to hitting home runs last season: Mark Trumbo and Chris Carter.
Trumbo led the majors with 47 dingers, but didn't have any kind of legitimate market materialize over the winter before re-signing with the Baltimore Orioles on a three-year, $37.5 million deal. Something like this happening would've been crazy to think about 10 or so years ago, but the example gets even more drastic with Carter.
After hitting 41 homers for the Milwaukee Brewers in one of his best all-around offensive seasons, he was forced into free agency after getting non-tendered. Then, he hung out on the open market until spring training started, when the New York Yankees signed him to a one-year, $3.5 million deal.
Making this situation even more interesting, the Yankees already had Matt Holliday projected to be their designated hitter and wanted Greg Bird to take the reins at first base. That put Carter, who tied with Nolan Arenado last year for the National League lead in homers, in a pretty unique situation considering what he just accomplished.
Getting an Opportunity to Repeat
When it comes to recent history, reigning home run champs in either the American League or National League almost always received ample opportunity the following year to defend their crown.
From 2000 to 2015, there have been 35 sluggers who found themselves at the top of the food chain when it comes to homers in a single season. Of this group, 29 received at least 500 plate appearances the following year. Furthermore, 25 of them managed to turn that playing time into another 30-plus homer season (including 16 different 40-plus homer campaigns).
The remaining six home run champions who didn't receive at least 500 plate appearances the following year are in the table below, which includes the year in which they won the homer title and the number of homers hit, along with the number of homers and plate appearances they accumulated the following year.
|Player||HR Title Year||HRs Hit||PA Next Year||HRs Next Year|
For Paul Goldschmidt, Matt Kemp, Pedro Alvarez, Jose Bautista and Giancarlo Stanton, the season following their respective home run titles were all impacted by some kind of injury and ensuing stint -- or stints -- on the disabled list. That obviously limited their playing time, and in turn, took away some of their opportunity to rack up similar power numbers.
With regard to Ryan Braun, his 2013 season was impacted by getting hit with a significant suspension for performance-enhancing drugs.
Since the turn of the century, sluggers who displayed elite home run power compared to the rest of the league more or less had the chance to continue hitting bombs the following year. That's a little different this year.
Where Is Carter's Opportunity?
As mentioned earlier, the three hitters who topped the homer charts last season in their respective leagues were Trumbo, Arenado and Carter. When we look at how things have played out so far in 2017, there's a rather clear divide.
Trumbo's start has been more frightening than anything else, but despite hitting just 2 homers, he's registered 112 plate appearances in 26 games entering Thursday's action. Arenado is off to a much better start -- he's hit 7 homers -- and since he's been entrenched as the Colorado Rockies' starting third baseman for quite some time, it's not shocking that he's collected 119 plate appearances across 28 games.
But Carter? He's lagging behind both of them rather convincingly.
While he's only one homer behind Trumbo, the right-hander hitter has accumulated just 49 plate appearances across 16 games played, and he's gotten more than one plate appearance in a game just 10 times.
The only reason behind him even getting that much of an opportunity to play is because Bird's start hasn't gone as planned -- he's slashed just .100/.250/.200 with a 35 wRC+ through 72 plate appearances and is currently on the 10-day disabled list with a deep bone bruise in his right ankle.
Since he's been given a majority of the playing time at first base up until this point -- even when he's been struggling -- it wouldn't be surprising to see Carter once again get relegated to the pinch-hitting duty and the occasional start once the 24-year-old gets returns to the active roster.
Times, They're a Changin'
Clearly, this didn't come out of nowhere -- dingers are awesome, but teams are valuing more well-rounded players instead of one-dimensional sluggers these days.
Despite posting a .821 OPS with an Isolated Power (ISO) of .277 and those 41 homers, Carter's wRC+ settled in at just 112, along with a 30.2% strikeout rate. So, his overall offensive production wasn't incredible to begin with, and combining that with his below-average defense resulted in an fWAR of just 0.9 in 2016.
His fit with the Yankees seemed awkward from the beginning, but it also didn't seem like he had many offers, unless he seriously considered playing in Japan.
Carter's defense will always bring down his overall value, but he could provide plenty of value for another American League squad in need of a designated hitter. Based on New York's early-season success and Carter's non-prohibitive contract, the only way he'll get a shot at rebuilding his value would be from a trade to a new destination.
The game is moving away from players like Carter, and judging by how difficult it was for him to get a job after a career year, one can only imagine what it'll be like once he re-enters free agency next winter.