Earlier this month, I updated the second base tiered rankings and opined that Tier One consisted of Robinson Cano, Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler. That’s not really a controversial grouping, especially given the three currently lead qualified second basemen across the league in wOBA. They’re three ducks in a row atop the stat sheets.
And fourth in wOBA is … Matt Carpenter?
The 27-year-old owns a .360 wOBA and is demanding attention in all fantasy formats. He leads all second basemen in runs scored (33) and ranks second in on-base percentage. He’s hitting atop a solid Cardinals’ batting order, and if he continues to get on base, he should see plenty of run-scoring opportunities going forward. A few stolen bases would be nice, but fantasy owners will settle for a high-average, high-run guy with significant positional flexibility any day of the week.
By all accounts, the performance appears sustainable. Coming into Sunday’s finale against Milwaukee, Carpenter had compiled a .297/.372/.459 slash line in 518 plate appearances over the last two years. Great average and on-base skills, but only fringy power numbers. And glancing at the scouting report our own Marc Hulet wrote about him prior to the 2012 season, we see that his current offensive profile fits what most scouts saw in the minors:
Already 26, Carpenter has turned himself into a solid prospect after being selected out of Texas Christian University as a fifth-year senior. He has the ability to hit for average but his power potential is below-average for a third baseman and his best hope for playing time at the big league level, especially with St. Louis, might come from a utility/pinch-hit role. His defense is average at the hot corner.
Scouts always knew Carpenter could hit. His lack of power, however, held him back from being projected as an everyday player at third base. Of course, the St. Louis Cardinals circumvented that issue by shoving a square peg in a round hole and shifting Carpenter to second base during spring training, and it’s been a win for the organization thus far this season. He hasn’t been a trainwreck defensively at second and his bat is playing well atop the batting order.
Fantasy owners should also remain confident in the high batting average and on-base percentage because his plate discipline continues to be phenomenal. Coming into Sunday, his 0.87 BB/K ratio ranked 13th in all of baseball and was tied with the great Miguel Cabrera. He rarely swings and misses, he doesn’t chase too many pitches out of the zone, and he drives the baseball into the gaps when he does put the ball in play.
Truly pinning down Carpenter’s fantasy value is difficult, though. He’s going to offer a great batting average, plenty of runs, and positional flexibility. On the other hand, his potential lack of double-digit home run power is an issue. It’s rare that a qualified second baseman fails to hit 10 long balls, considering 15 second basemen reached that benchmark last season. Some have pointed to his 12 homers in Double-A (2010) or his 12 homers in Triple-A (2011) as evidence for his ability to reach double-digits in the power department. It’s important to note, though, playing the majority of games in Busch Stadium will only further depress his home run totals.
In each of the last five years, Busch Stadium has posted a below-average home run factor — with the vast majority of years showing an extreme suppression of homers.
For a player with questionable power, like Matt Carpenter, it’s unreasonable to expect him to outperform expectations in that category in such a difficult power environment. Fantasy owners shouldn’t expect double-digit homers from Carpenter this season, which certainly hurts his overall value. After all, only two guys with fewer than 10 home runs finished within the top 15 second basemen in the end-of-season rankings — and only Marco Scutaro did so without significant stolen base numbers. In 541 career plate appearances, Carpenter has one stolen base on two attempts.
So, best-case scenario, we’re talking ’12 Marco Scutaro with more runs and fewer RBI — and Scutaro was the 10th-most valuable second basemen last year. I find that to be interesting because Matt Carpenter feels more valuable than that. A guy hitting .296/.378/.440 feels more valuable than 10th overall. Still, at that value, he’s still a starting second basemen in almost every conceivable format. It’s simply necessary for owners to remember where his limitations lie and compensate elsewhere on their roster to remain competitive across all categories.
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