Can Mike Carp be a Big Fish?

Found the light switch. In the zone. In a groove. Dialed. Signed a deal with the Devil.

Call it what you want, but after Mike Carp‘s sizzling finish to 2011, fantasy managers want to know just who the hell this guy is who was supposed to be simply “organizational depth” for a fledgling franchise.

The 2011 Seattle Mariners, buoyed largely by some fantastic starting pitching, hung around in the AL West race long enough to let Mike Carp bludgeon AAA pitching until the organization couldn’t not call him up. So they did. And he stunk. He stunk badly. Like .200/.333/.257 with no home runs and 14 strikeouts over 15 games bad. And then they couldn’t not send him back down – which they did on July 3rd.

From July 3rd to July 19th, the Mariners collapsed and went from 2.5 games back in the AL West to 12.5 games back. Their proverbial goose being cooked, it was time to give extended playing time to this enigma of a quad-A player who put up a .347/.414/.653 line at AAA Tacoma and see if he had any future at all as a bench or platoon player.

Carp took advantage.

Over those last 64 games, Carp hit .286/.325/.494 with 12 HR, 46 RBI, and 15 doubles. Known as a guy who would take a walk and flash a little power, he flashed a ton of power and hardly walked. Even though this is the same guy that hit a combined 50 home runs in AAA over his last roughly 750 plate appearances, I’m not sure there were many that expected him to impress in the way that he did.

One knock on Carp is an unsustainable BABIP of .343, artificially holding up his .276 batting average. But based on his hit trajectory, his expected BABIP was fully .335 – so he very well earned most of it. One thing about his batted ball data that does scream for some regression is his HR/FB rate which was 17.6%. It’s not that 17.6% is necessarily impossible, but you’re typically a fairly prolific power hitter to be in that territory. In fact, there’s no player in 2011 who hit 10 home runs or more with an HR/FB above 17% that has an ISO below .200 other than Mike Carp.

Carp also has the issue of Safeco Field, and while it plays better for left handed power bats than right, the last pair of Mariners who consistently produced HR/FB rates at 17% and above were Richie Sexson and Russell Branyan, just for comparison’s sake. So some degree of regression might be expected relative to his HR/FB.

But one thing about his home runs that jumps out is the fact that he averaged 413 feet when he left the yard. Prince Fielder averaged 409 feet, Jose Bautista averaged 406, Matt Kemp averaged 412, Albert Pujols 403. I’m not saying Mike Carp is the Mariners cheap answer to Prince Fielder, but when Carp hit his home runs, he tended to crush the ball — which is why I think many of the Seattle faithful want to see him given a starting role with the Mariners come 2012 — they simply remember what he did as being dramatic.

Unless the Mariners make some significant moves, Carp should have the opportunity to have plenty of at-bats as he could platoon in left field, play a little first base, and also DH. If given 500 at-bats, Carp could be a valuable contributor in deep leagues or AL only formats. But his 2011 pace suggests a very valuable contributor, and that’s where I think you have to be careful. Until we see a full season of the Mike Carp we saw over 60-plus games, I think you have to be conservative.

I could see a .265 batting average, 18 home runs, and assuming he’s hitting somewhere 3-5 in the lineup, you can probably bank on 65+ RBI as well. But Carp is just 25 and it certainly seems like there’s potential for a lot more in that bat, although it’s probably a little foolish to expect it. But if you like the upside plays that come with the risk of absolute bust, Carp is someone to keep on your radar.

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Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.

12 Responses to “Can Mike Carp be a Big Fish?”

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  1. Roger says:

    Looking at average home run length is a really terrible way to measure players when they play in big parks like Safeco. They aren’t going to get any short home runs, purely because their home park doesn’t allow them, so of course their average is going to be higher. Basic selection bias.

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    • Michael Barr says:

      Well, only five of his 12 HR’s were at Safeco and three of those were the shortest distances. But I wasn’t really trying to measure Carp by his HR distance, I was kind of speculating why some of the fans in Seattle are so jazzed by him.

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      • jcxy says:

        i don’t mean to be a dick, but you haven’t refuted the selection bias charge. a 330 pull isn’t going to go out in safeco, whereas it will in many other parks. add a few cheap shots to his totals (doesn’t even need to be “near misses”) and his average HR distance will drop.

        it might have been stronger for your argument to have pointed to the the number of no-doubt home runs (5) he had last year, which tied him for T21st in the AL. of course, most (all?) of the other people on the list ahead of him had more than 300 ABs last year.

        no matter, it’s still a good write up and you’ve put him on my radar. cheap power is cheap for a reason, right? his floor is probably a bit higher than chris davis and when davis hits 10 HRs off triple A pitching in spring training, he’ll be priced ahead of carp.

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      • Michael Barr says:

        It’s just not an important part of the post, it’s my fault if it came off that way — the point of his distance on HR is that I think it created a some excitement about his potential. I was really trying to understand why everyone in Seattle loved this guy so much, and was merely speculating that perhaps it was his dramatic HR’s. And people need to recognize that Safeco played pretty damn close to neutral on HR’s for LHB in 2011 (via Stat Corner, a 95 where 100 is neutral).

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      • jcxy says:

        Ok, this is far more convincing to me. A bit surprising too. I know it’s oft-repeated that Safeco isn’t as bad for pull lefties as it is for pull righties but…from the THT article…131 (!) for RF in Safeco vs 88 (!!) on the Pesky Pole side of Fenway. I never would have guessed that.

        I guess last year’s ESPN park effect number was burned into my mind and I was incapable of lumping the whole park into some anti-launching pad narrative. I stand corrected.

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      • MH says:

        Why is Seattle so jazzed by Mike Carp? Two words: Justin and Smoak. I still think Smoak might have a decent future, but he’s been pretty awful thus far, and there hasn’t been a whole lot else to cling to on the offensive side of the ball there aside from Dustin Ackley.

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    • Klatz says:

      In general you would might expect to see a selection bias, but you should do a bit of digging before making a generalization. Safeco is big field excluding right field. A study looking at park effects on home runs,, found that Safeco actually favored HRs to right field. In that study, he split park effects by field area and found that Safeco’s RF park factor was 131, where 100~average and higher numbers favor more HRs. The CF was 64 in comparison for Safeco. Compare that to the Ranger’s homefield effect of 120 for RF and 77 for CF. For a pull hitter like Carp who hit 3/5 of his Safeco HRs to RF, the selection bias would be for MORE not less HRs.

      The much bigger problem is the relatively small sample sizes.

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    • cs3 says:

      i dont think HR distance tells us much either (not only due to various park dimensions, but also because some of the stronger guys can hit it out without squaring the ball up, (balls that barely get out that other players would hit for flyouts), but still reducing the avg distance. i think fly ball distance is a much better measure of raw power.

      however, that said, it really has very little to do with the overall point of the article.

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  2. MH says:

    His plate discipline profile is what looks the most problematic to me. 13.1 SwStrike%, 35.1 O-Swing%. Those are the kinds of numbers only really elite sluggers can get away with. Its certainly possible he tightens up his zone a bit and both numbers head back towards league average, but as a guy with no speed, moderate power, and a lot of swings-and-misses, the floor here is pretty low and I’m not sure the ceiling is super high. In mixed leagues, there are probably other guys I’d rather take cheap fliers on. Solid AL-only gamble though.

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    • Michael Barr says:

      agree his swinging strike rate is terrible. His O-Swing% isn’t terribly higher than league average, but overall his contact rates are pretty questionable.

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  3. Bill says:

    Getting away from the stats for one moment, two things that really jump out to me after reading a bit about Carp. One, he made a life change, prior to last season: New, rigorous diet and work-out regimen. Guy is clearly in TOP NOTCH condition. Two, written observations consistently discuss how hard he was hitting the ball.

    I know he attributes his increased success to his diet and work-out regimen…..

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  4. zack says:

    Carp’s recent history in the minor leagues is also interesting to Mariners fans. He was known as a guy with mediocre power and plus plate skills until last year, when he changed his approach and went for power at the expense of contact and plate discipline (started swinging for the fences).

    He has the potential to dial back the out of control at-bats, and hopefully will with more experience. We all hope he settles into a groove of a good approach at the plate with some decent power to boot.

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