(BaseballSTL) -- The old saying goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. That has never been more applicable than it is right now with regards to the St. Louis Cardinals and their leadoff hitter.
3rd baseman Matt Carpenter burst onto the big league scene as a regular in 2013 with a .318 batting average and, most importantly, a .392 on-base percentage. Hitting first in a lineup is about OBP. That’s it. If you can steal bases, great. But all the stolen bases in the world won’t help you if you can’t get on base first.
Just ask the Cincinnati Reds.
Despite the fact Carpenter’s on-base percentage dropped to .375 (still terrific) last year there is no one on the team that grinds out at-bats and makes life miserable for a pitcher quite like him. Sure, Jason Heyward and Matt Holliday have pretty high OBPs. But they’re natural power hitters who are built to be 3rd or 4th in a lineup.
Atlanta was forced to hit Heyward 1st last year largely because there was no one else able to do it.
Unless and until the Cardinals find someone who can come through with a consistent .400 on-base percentage AND steal 20-30 bases there’s no reason to move Carpenter from his perch atop the lineup. Remember all the at-bats he took against the Dodgers the last two Octobers? Every time the pitcher was up you knew the entire stadium dreaded the fact #13 was on deck.
Carpenter is just a really hard guy to get out. Every time you think you made a great pitch to get him he finds a way to spoil it or take it for a ball. There’s no one else on the team who is able to do what he does consistently. Not Holliday. Not Heyward (so far). And not Kolten Wong (not yet anyway).
It’s understandable to discuss the possibility of moving the Texas native down in the lineup. I get it. The Cardinals offense sagged last year to 23rd with just 619 runs scored. They were 29th in home runs with 105.
Changes are going to be in store after that.
But you don’t make changes just to say you made changes. You alter what’s not working while sticking with what is. And Matt Carpenter hitting 1st is absolutely positively working.
Could someone else do a decent job there? Sure. Jon Jay’s .372 OBP last year is similar to that of Carpenter’s .375. But that .372 number is practically Jay’s career high. In 2,146 big league at-bats Jay’s never shown the ability to get that number up to .400. Carpenter has. And as good as Jay is at what he does he doesn’t grind ABs like Carpenter.
Kolten Wong? The speed is there to steal bases for sure. But he’s not the patient type at the plate. Wong has the mentality of a #3 hitter who wants to mash. Personally, for my money, Wong’s better hitting second with Carpenter in front of him.
Matt Carpenter is just a really good – a lot of times great – hitter who certainly would be terrific if put in a different part of the order. He’d drive in more runs. He could let his ability to square the ball up shine more without having to worry about being patient and getting on base.
But there’s just no one on the roster good enough to warrant making this change. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of other really good hitters. But no one qualified to move the 3rd baseman.