Matt Carpenter Is the Most Underrated Player in Baseball
Whether a player is overrated or underrated is a debate that will likely live on as long as sports continue to exist. These arguments usually come from fans who think their beloved player isn't receiving enough attention, or from haters who think someone is undeserving of the accolades they are garnering.
But as rapper Ice-T taught us, "don't hate the player, hate the game," and from an unbiased standpoint, I'm declaring Matt Carpenter as the most underrated player in baseball.
I'll give you a moment to get out your pitchforks.
Carpenter, the 30-year-old infielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, has been one of baseball's best players since the 2013 season. He has accumulated a Wins Above Replacement (fWAR) of 18.5 from that season until as of this writing. That total ranks seventh-best among hitters and there's only three pitchers with a better mark.
He hasn't slowed down this season, either, ranking among the best hitters in several categories.
Based on Carpenter's 16.8 Offensive Runs Above Average (Off), he's been the 11th best offensive player this season. Much of his success stems from his patient approach at the plate.
Not only is Carpenter seeing the 12th most pitches per plate appearance at 4.27, but he rarely chases pitches that are outside of the strike zone (O-Swing%), and when he does swing -- which isn't often (his 39.0 swing percentage is 11th lowest) -- he tends to make contact, especially on pitches that are strikes (Z-Contact%). His ability to layoff balls has helped lead to an impressive batted ball profile.
No one in baseball is producing soft contact at a lower rate than Carpenter and, actually, it's not even close -- not a single other hitter has a Soft% of under 10.2 percent. The lack of weak contact is being replaced by a consistent amount of balls hit hard (Hard%), which is in part due to the high percentage of line drives that Carpenter hits.
Carpenter's Hard% is a career high and perhaps not coincidentally, so is the percentage of balls he pulls (Pull%). His Pull% is not only higher than it's ever been, but it's 13.4 percent higher than his career average entering this season (35.2 percent). It's possible that this change has not been accidental, as Carpenter has increased his Pull% every season of his career, except from the 2013 to 2014 season.
(Before I get accused of data mining to prove a point, his Pull% in 2015 was higher than it was in 2014, so his decrease in 2014 actually appears to be an outlier.)
The hard-hit balls and the large percentage of pulled balls has helped lead to 10 home runs for Carpenter, including his most recent shot which happened last Friday against the Pittsburgh Pirates and gave the Cardinals the (temporary) lead.
#STLCards were scoreless until the 8th inning, when Matt Carpenter yanked his 10th Homerun of the season. pic.twitter.com/nafOGQJcyS
— All STLCards (@AStlcards) June 11, 2016
Carpenter hit a career best 28 home runs last season, despite serving primarily as the team's leadoff hitter, something he has done in every game he's started this season except for one. If he has the same amount of plate appearances as he did in 2015, Carpenter is currently on slightly slower pace than last season (roughly 25 home runs), although his Isolated Power (ISO) of .261 is 0.028 points higher than it was last season.
His power is unconventional for leadoff hitters, but it's the gravy on top of his overall patient approach at the plate and ability to get on base that teams love to see from their top-of-the-order guys. Carpenter does it all at the plate, yet outside of St. Louis, his play is overlooked.
Carpenter owns a nERD of 3.01, which currently ranks 14th-best among hitters. And our projections don't expect him to slow down much over the remaining course season, hitting .274/.381/.483 with 15 home runs and a .369 wOBA.
Knowing what you now do about Carpenter, don't still choose to ignore his stellar play. Otherwise, to steal from Ice-T again, "You played yourself...Yo, homeboy, you played yourself..."