Why Matt Carpenter Is a Potential MVP Candidate

The Cardinals' Matt Carpenter is once again showing he's the best leadoff hitter in the game. Could he be an MVP?

St. Louis Cardinals' infielder Matt Carpenter has been doing this for a while now.

Since becoming a full-time starter and the team's leadoff hitter in 2013, Carpenter has been one of the league's best table setters. In 2013, he was worth 6.9 FanGraphs' Wins Above Replacement (fWAR), in 2014 he was worth 4.0 fWAR, and so far this season, he's already been worth 1.1 fWAR. That would put him third among all National Leaguers this season, behind only Los Angeles' Adrian Gonzalez (1.5) and Cincinnati's Joey Votto (1.3).

Now, it's too early in the season to start going too much off of WAR. But as you can see, this kind of production is nothing new from Carpenter. And he's setting himself up once again to be considered one of the best overall players in the NL, and clearly, it's best leadoff hitter.

After winning NL Player of the Week honors for last week, Carpenter is hitting .386/.444/.684 with three home runs, 13 runs scored, a .481 weighted on base average (wOBA) and a weighted runs created (wRC+) of 214. And since the start of the 2013 season, this table shows how Carpenter stacks up among leadoff hitters with at least 750 plate appearances.

Shin-Soo Choo109814.30%20.80%210.4030.4430.8450.376139
Matt Carpenter140111.80%14.20%80.3880.4390.8280.366136
Charlie Blackmon7784.90%15.90%300.3370.4530.790.345103
Ian Kinsler8206.50%9.60%140.3370.4440.7810.343115
Brett Gardner10898.80%20.40%370.340.4360.7760.342115
Christian Yelich76510.50%20.40%240.3620.4030.7650.341116
Jacoby Ellsbury9287.40%14.50%660.3440.430.7740.339111
Jose Reyes11266.50%11.30%470.3340.4050.7390.326104
Coco Crisp110511.00%11.80%380.3320.4060.7380.326109
Adam Eaton7697.70%15.70%180.3440.3830.7270.324104

Only Choo is ahead of Carpenter over the last two-plus years with players having his many plate appearances, and Carpenter has had more plate appearances as a leadoff hitter than anyone else in baseball over that time. Choo was also worth just 0.1 fWAR last year and is at -0.3 so far this year.

In 2013, Carpenter finished fourth in the NL MVP voting as a nearly seven-win player, and appears headed in that direction once again. And at a time when power in baseball is in serious decline, the emergence of Carpenter as the game's best leadoff man could make him the first leadoff hitter to win an MVP award since Jimmy Rollins in 2007.

In fact, the recent list of leadoff MVPs is a rather short one. Since 1970, there have been only three.

Jimmy Rollins2007Philadelphia
Ichiro Suzuki2001Seattle
Pete Rose1973Cincinnati

In 1985, Willie McGee didn't bat leadoff (Vince Coleman had that role), but he did win the MVP hitting 2nd, and there have been other non-power hitters like Barry Larkin and Terry Pendleton that won an MVP without being true power hitters. But historically, it is the power guys who have dominated.

Could Carpenter be the fourth since 1970? He'll have some stiff competition certainly, and it's admittedly far too early to start talking about anyone as MVP candidates.

All this exercise is meant to do is underline just how good and valuable Matt Carpenter has been for a Cardinals team that has no power to speak of. St. Louis, as much as any homer-starved team in baseball, desperately needs its leadoff guy to get on base and score runs, something Carpenter has been a wizard at for three years now.

It's time to call Matt Carpenter what he is.

One of the very best players in all of baseball.