(BaseballStL) -- Raise your hand if you saw this coming? Did anybody really have Matt Carpenter pegged as a Most Valuable Player candidate at the start of the season? I doubt it. The big question during spring training was whether Carpenter could handle the switch to second base.
Would he be a liability there? Was his offensive upside worth the risk of playing him in the middle infield? The questions being asked now are whether he has a shot at the MVP, will he be this kind of player every year, and are there any second basemen in baseball you’d rather have?
The answer to that last question is probably yes- Robinson Cano of the Yankees- but other than him, probably not.
Carpenter’s stat line right now reads .316, 10 HR’s, 69 RBI’s, 112 Runs, 174 Hits, .868 OPS. He leads the National League in runs scored. He’s crossed the plate 15 more times than the guy in second place, Shin-Soo Choo. He leads the league in doubles with 48, nine more than his teammate Yadier Molina. He leads the league in hits, with eight more than Andrew McCutcheon.
Carpenter is a bit of a late bloomer. He’s already 27 years old. Baseball stat geeks will tell you that 27 is the absolutely prime of a player’s career.
There’s a good chance Carpenter will never put together another season like this one. Not many second baseman ever have. It’d be unfair to expect him to produce like this ever year. But he’s certainly established himself as one of the top second baseman in the game, and a crucial part of the Cardinals success this season.
Moving Carpenter from a utility role to everyday second baseman may be the smartest thing the Cardinals brain trust have done in recent years.
Obviously, one highly productive season doesn’t put Carpenter on the list of greatest second basemen in Cardinals history. He’d have to put up another 10 years or so to join the elite, and there have been some great ones: Tommy Herr, Julian Javier, Red Schoendienst, Frankie Frisch, Roger Horsnby. It’ll be hard for any second baseman, on any team, to overtake Hornsby as the greatest second baseman of all time.
The guy hit more than .400 not once, not twice, but three times, including .424 in 1924. The Rajah won seven batting titles, two MVPs and nine slugging percentage titles, still a record. His career average was .358, second highest all-time behind Ty Cobb. Fellow Hall of Fame second baseman Frankie Frisch once said of Hornsby, “He is the only guy I know who could hit .350 in the dark.”
It remains to be seen whether Matt Carpenter can learn to hit in the dark, but I wouldn’t put it past him. He’s done everything else this season.