Chris Carter: A Potential Breakout Candidate

Chris Carter has been on fantasy radars for several seasons, getting plenty of helium after launching an impressive 39 home runs in 2008 with Oakland’s High-A affiliate. He followed that banner season with 28 and 34 homers in 2009 and 2010, respectively, before bouncing between Triple-A and the majors for a couple years.

Fantasy owners have long desired to see what he could accomplish with 500+ plate appearances in a season, but defensive limitations and a penchant for striking out had previously kept him from getting regular playing time. That is, until the Houston Astros committed to him as a full-time player, splitting time between first base, left field and DH.

In his first full-season stint in the big leagues, Carter epitomized the three-true outcome approach. He struck out in more than a third of his plate appearances, posted a 12.0% walk rate and finished with 29 long balls. While only hitting .223 on the season, his power/patience approach still allowed him to remain an above-average contributor at the plate. He had a 113 wRC+ and 112 OPS+.

For fantasy purposes, however, the three-true outcomes approach doesn’t always pay dividends. Owners in standard leagues suffered from the putrid batting average, which caused him to just miss cracking the top-50 fantasy outfielders this season. Owners in OBP leagues, though, had it a little easier with the above-average walk rate. Carter posted a .320 OBP that was certainly palatable with the 29 homers and .227 ISO.

That’s likely more than sufficient for a synopsis of the season. When the staff at RotoGraphs is churning out these player profiles each week, we’re much more about looking forward than we are about simply reiterating what happened in the past. More directly, we’re all seeking to strike gold with the next breakout player in the majors, that guy in the late rounds or that one-dollar player who becomes a fantasy stud.

I’m not suggesting Chris Carter transforms himself into an All-Star in 2014. Instead, I wish to offer a quick comparison that illustrates what Carter could potentially offer next season if all the stars align, which to be honest, is exactly what many breakout campaigns amount to in the end. Everything clicks simultaneously, and a guy is able to translate plus raw tools into consistent, usable in-game skills.

Here’s the comparison:

Name LD% GB% FB% O-Swing% SwStr% BB% K% ISO
Chris Carter 22.4% 30.8% 46.8% 28.6% 15.5% 12.0% 36.2% .227
Player A 21.9% 32.4% 45.7% 35.7% 15.2% 10.7% 29.6% .348

While these players appear comparable in how they put the ball in play, one could argue Chris Carter is more attractive when isolating the plate discipline numbers. The two players clearly have similar peripheral numbers. In the end, though, the dramatic difference in ISO makes it clear Player A was more productive (by a large margin) in 2012, despite the underlying batted ball and plate discipline numbers.

As most readers have likely deduced, Player A is Chris Davis.

Now that both players are revealed, a massive chasm exists between Carter’s .337 wOBA and Davis’ .421 wOBA. At the core, however, the two have distinct similarities. Their batted ball profile is similar. Their three-true outcome approach is similar. Even their body type is similar. But, most importantly, we’re discussing two players who rely heavily on their power production.

And before people get too bent out of shape regarding the comparison of their power numbers, it’s important to realize that Davis didn’t have a huge gap between him and Carter in average batted ball distance. Chris Davis averaged 308.66 ft. on fly balls, which ranked eighth out of 300 qualified hitters. On the other hand, Chris Carter averaged 298.60 ft and ranked 21nd. It’s a noticeable difference, but it doesn’t appear to be overly significant. In the end, both players displayed huge home run power in 2013.

The question: can Chris Carter make enough contact to raise his batting average and tap into his plus power more consistently?

Other considerations must also be placed on the table. It’s not just about contact rate. Chris Davis doesn’t make that much more contact than Chris Carter, but he does appear to make better contact — and I’m not simply referencing the batted ball distance mentioned above. Although Davis is a fly ball hitter, his infield-fly rate is obscenely low (3.9%). Carter had a 12.1% infield-fly percentage last season. That type of poor contact significantly matters when projecting batting average.

I’m not convinced he’ll ever hit for a “good” average, but if he can raise his batting average to .250-.260 and keep the same power/patience profile, Chris Carter could have a chance to launch 40+ homers next season. Though playing for the Astros may keep his run totals depressed, he should still receive ample opportunities to drive in runs in the middle of their order — keep in mind that he already knocked in 82 runs this year. It’s not a huge jump to 90-100 RBI.

When sifting through the later rounds and attempting to identify potential breakout candidates, don’t neglect Chris Carter. Many owners will ignore him due to the low batting average and the fact that he plays for the Astros. He possesses the ideal batted ball profile and requisite power to compile huge power numbers in 2014, especially if he can cut down the strikeouts and tap into that power a little more. Carter will be 27 years old next season and amidst his prime. Limitations clearly exist in his game, but he’s a guy who could jump on the national radar with a home run binge next year. He plays in the right park, has the right amount of power, and has the right profile to do so.

Those are the type of breakout candidates to target on draft day. Owners simply have to hope the stars align and the huge potential translates into huge production. If that occurs, the league championship becomes that much closer.




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J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).


10 Responses to “Chris Carter: A Potential Breakout Candidate”

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  1. rotowizard says:

    Reminds me a lot of Mark Reynolds before his breakout season.

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  2. Barry says:

    I’ve been watching Chris Carter closely as well, and I’m concerned with his second-half trend in 2013. Using admittedly traditional offensive categories (BA, OBP and OPS), he regressed significantly after the All Star break. However, he did rebound a bit in September.

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  3. BaseballFan says:

    I like Carter’s power, but what I don’t think is mentioned is how much internal competition he will face. Set aside guys like Brett Wallace, how much do guys like Japhat Amador (DH only) and Jon Singleton figure to eat into his playing-time? It’s certainly a consideration too, I would think.

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  4. CJohnson in Austin TX says:

    One of the oddities is that Carter hit a lot better on the road than at home, even though Minute Maid Park should be a good venue for a RH power hitter. He had a 71 wRC+ at home and a 153 wRC+ on the road. He had a BABIP of .233 at home and .383 on the road. One can speculate on any number of causes for the H/R splits, but none are particularly persuasive to me. I’ve got to think that a lot of the difference is luck, random variation or whatever you want to call it. If his H/R BABIP regresses, on balance this should be beneficial to him, because of the cozy confines of LF in MMP.

    It’s also worth noting that Carter didn’t have the kind f severe splits in 2013 which would lead to platoon usage. This should also give him a chance to put it together in the future.

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    • Leland says:

      This. His road numbers are outstanding.

      I have a theory, that may be unpopular. But Carter said on more than one occasion that the boos at home were starting to bother him.

      There is a chance that his struggles at home are mental.

      Maybe The Astros bat him 6th or 7th, take some pressure off him and let him build his confidence.

      After watching him this year, I agree that he has big time upside potential.

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  5. centerfield ballhawk says:

    Where can a find the list of batted ball distance leaders from the 2013 season? Thanks in advance.

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  6. Gee's Up, Hoes Down says:

    The Astros should be a great source of cheap fantasy hitting this year, with a bunch of high upside guys. Castro, Carter and Altuve will be joined by Springer and Singleton. I think their offense will be much better than people think. If their pitching wasn’t so bad I would even predict them to finish not last in the AL West. Ignore the Astros at your fantasy peril.

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