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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.