On the Surging Chris Carter

Chris Carter, as of this writing, has hit 28 home runs this season. That’s more than Mike Trout, Josh Donaldson, David Ortiz and Jose Bautista. Only Nelson Cruz, Jose Abreu, and Giancarlo Stanton have more. Carter has always had a power stroke, so perhaps this isn’t a great surprise. But he’s only one dinger off his career high, and has been gathering them in bunches as of late. In fact, since the calendar flipped to July, Carter has been a (literal) man (metaphorically) on fire.

In July, Carter hit .289 with 8 homers and a .361 ISO. His 176 wRC+ was good enough for ninth among qualified batters that month. So far in August, he leads all batters in wRC+ with a bonkers 261. He’s collected 15 home runs in the last two months and the second month isn’t even half over. When a hitter who historically hits for a poor average suddenly stops doing that, it’s fair to assume that a good deal of it could be luck-dependent, but that isn’t the case here. While his August BABIP is certainly inflated, he wasn’t really that lucky in July. A .314 BABIP is a little above league average, but not terribly so and is actually on par with his 2013.

This can stem from two things — one quantifiable, the second less so. The first factor is that Carter is chasing less as of late. Here’s a heat map of all his swings, courtesy of baseballsavant.com:

carterheatmapjulysplit

There are still a few bad swings on the right, but there’s a discernable lack of flails at outside pitches. The Frisbee sliders are still getting swung at, but the borderline pitches on the outside are being left alone. On the season, he’s still swinging at more outside pitches than in 2013, but his recent approach seems to be helping him.

There has also been talk on Astros broadcasts about a swing tweak that Carter has been working on. Namely, that he’s trying to shorten his stroke. Carter is a big huge enormous man with long arms, and he gives it his all on most swings. While he’s certainly not turning into a slap hitter, a shorter stroke might be helping his contact a bit. Here are two home run swings — the first from 2013, the second from just a few days ago.

carter2013hr
carter2014hr

The camera angles add some difficulty, but the bat doesn’t seem wrapped around his head as much in the latter GIF, and it appears as if his full-arm extension comes a little later, as well. This could be part of what’s patching the holes in his swing.

According to BaseballSavant, Carter is seeing the same amount of pitches in the zone (36%) in his recent tear as he has all season. Whether it’s through an improved swing, or an improved plate discipline that is leading to better pitches, Chris Carter is showing glimpses of what a man his size looks like he should be doing. He should still have a few good years left in him, and if he really has turned a bit of a corner, he could be a contributing piece of a team looking to make their push at relevancy in the next few years.




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David G. Temple is the Managing Editor of TechGraphs and a contributor to FanGraphs, NotGraphs and The Hardball Times. He hosts the award-eligible podcast Stealing Home. Dayn Perry once called him a "Bible Made of Lasers." Follow him on Twitter @davidgtemple.


9 Responses to “On the Surging Chris Carter”

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  1. TheVerbalFan says:

    “Carter is a big huge enormous man” is now one of my favorite FG quotes. I hope that Chris Carter finds this and puts it in his twitter profile or something.

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  2. Bryz says:

    Watching his home run swings yesterday against the Twins, it sure seemed like he was using a shorter follow-through and yet the ball still exploded off his bat. Oh, to be a big huge enormous man.

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  3. W says:

    Not to be too persnickety, but Jose Abreu has 31 HRs. Nice post though, and it’s good to see Carter finally making good.

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  4. James says:

    When fangraphs tries to break down baseball swing mechanics<<<<

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    • Carl Pavano says:

      Maybe it was the angle but I was seeing a shorter stroke with less stride on the first one. He also seemed to keep his elbow tucked longer, closer to contact on the first. Maybe I’m just going blind in my middle age and the pitch location always has something to with these things but the first one looked textbookish while the second looked like a huge enormous man extending his arms to adjust to the pitch. But hey if he’s working on a shorter stroke, I’ll buy it.

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  5. Lark11 says:

    Is there a standard perspective on strikezone representations like the above heat maps? Are we supposed to just know whether the strikezone is being viewed from the pitcher’s or catcher’s perspective? I’m never entirely sure and it seems like it would take just a second or two to expressly state which perspective is represented.

    Anyway, the Carter discussion is certainly timely, but I’m still not sure whether his breakout is legit/sustainable or just a small sample size. Still, an interesting read.

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  6. WorstToFirst says:

    I’ve noticed lately just from watching the games that he’s chasing the breaking ball off the plate less than he has, so I’m glad to see the heat maps back that up.

    Just some notes on his swing, in my eyes he looks more vertical in the first GIF. He looks like he’s squatting down a little more after his stride in the second GIF. His extension in the follow through looks longer in the second GIF, too. Those don’t really support the “shorter swing” comments, but just some things I noticed that I do like he’s doing now.

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  7. doug says:

    His second swing is definitely more compact, and reminds one a little of Barry Bonds. (The first video starts later and cuts off some of the back swing, but you can see contact with the ball occurs much later in the stroke, which indicates a “more compact” swing in the second video.)

    One thing both views do plainly show however, is empty seats. Which Bonds didn’t suffer from much in his later years.

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