ST. LOUIS — Because Matt Carpenter’s 2013 season was such a resounding success, some saw 2014 as a disappointment. But a leadoff man who led the league in walks and plate appearances while batting .272 and posting a .375 OBP would be welcome of most teams.
Yes, his home run count dropped, as did his hits, doubles and runs (all of which led the league in 2013). Still, he walked 23 more times in fewer plate appearances, saw more pitches per plate appearances and scored just shy of 100 times for a team that did not have the same pop as the year prior.
So what to expect in 2015?
If it goes well
Carpenter’s average returns north of .300. His exceptionally patient approach coupled with his ability to use all parts of the field pays dividends in increased power numbers while his strikeout rate stays low.
He solves the riddle of hitting pitches on the outside corner and improves his discipline on off-speed and breaking pitches, resulting in a steady stream of walks. He reaches base on at least 40 percent of his plate appearances.
Improved discipline means his at-bats become even more predatory, and he hits double-digit home runs while driving in 75 (maybe hitting second?), and scores more than 100 times.
In the field, he settles in at his natural position and cuts down on errors. He plays slightly above-average defense, occasionally getting a breather from role players. By managing his energy and improving his already impressive offensive tools, he hits .310 with an OBP of .400 and slugs .485. And, 13 homers cap an impressive offensive resurgence in his age-29 season.
If it doesn’t
The magic enshrouding Carpenter begins to dissipate, and the ruthless organism that is Major League Baseball begins to overpower his hard work. Pitchers find and exploit his blind spots, forcing more swings and misses. A combination of difficult pitches and unlucky results keeps his average firmly rooted below .280, and his on-base percentage suffers in kind.
After a gruesome first half, he is moved down in the order and continues to struggle compared to previous seasons. He hits fewer than five homers, and works himself harder and harder trying to regain the mojo.
In the field, poor hitting is compounded by poor defense. He makes 20 errors and can’t contribute enough at what is supposed to be a power position to justify his contract, which he and the Cardinals wear like an albatross.
Carpenter improves his game with the tireless persistence of a madman. He seemingly bends his talent and body to his will, turning a 215-pound utility player drafted in the 13th round into a two-time All Star.
It’s because of this 2015 will see better results. His at-bats are like watching a master chef at work; each move performed exactly with repeated precision. He will improve his average and sharpen his eye, and the other numbers will reflect his Herculean work ethic.
Ditto his defense, which wasn’t very good in 2014. His numbers would have been worse if not for some friendly scoring decisions. Carpenter’s distaste for his own underperformance won’t permit a repeat of that.
All aspects of his game improve this year.