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:
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.
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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