Vernon Christopher Carter is Freeing Baseballs

This Chris Carter was one of the first freedom campaigns that ever got my attention. Before Brandon Allen, there was Vernon Christopher, the twice-traded minor league slugger with power and patience that just needed somebody to believe in him. This year, after a couple tweaks, it looks like he’s finally free to free baseballs in the major leagues.

First, it’s important to note his flaws. Carter had a 23.5% strikeout rate across his minor league career, and in Triple-A in 2009 and 2010, that number was closer to 25%. With whiffs like that, he’s not likely to put up good batting averages. He has the upside to be a hoss in on-base-percentage leagues, since he’s always had hefty double-digit walk rates, but batting-average leagues will find him lacking in that department.

As a first baseman with an iffy batting average and no wheels, it’s the power that is the most important question mark. After a minor league isolated slugging percentage of .252 (average is about .150 in most leagues), his major league production before this year — three home runs in 124 plate appearances — was disappointing. Pairing that with a strikeout rate over 30% made it seem like maybe Carter wouldn’t make it.

Cue this year. Cue moon shots. Cue homers off lefties (Martin Perez, Brian Duensing), power righties (Steve Delabar, Tanner Scheppers), finesse righties (Cole DeVries), and even ground-ball wizards (Zach Britton). In one more MLB plate appearance this season than he had before this year, he’s hit 10 home runs and shown an ISO (.340) that’s been more than double his previous number.

Mechanical and mental adjustments helped pave the way. Jason Collette interviewed his hitting instructor who felt that all Carter needed was a mechanical adjustment with respect to breaking balls and a slight tweak to his mindset. Thanks to, we can see his success easily. On the left you’ll see a heat map for Carter’s work against breaking balls before this season. On the right is what he’s done so far this season.

That’s striking. That’s a decent improvement, even in a small sample.

We now have a tale of two halves. Let’s put them together and see what the comps say. Carter has struck out 29.7% of the time so far and walked 12.4% of the time. The 25-year-old has shown a .207 ISO in 249 PAs so far. Using our leaderboard filters, let’s look at all 25-and-younger corner infield/outfield types that have walked 10%+, struck out 28%+, and shown a .200+ ISO in more than 240 PAs. Since strikeouts have taken a recent uptick, let’s do it in the ‘modern era,’ or since 1990. Here’s your (sortable) list of young three-true-outcomers since 1990:

Giancarlo Stanton 1336 77 15 10.3% 28.1% .268 .323 .267 .348 .535 134
Mark Reynolds 1689 89 35 10.5% 32.9% .243 .343 .257 .338 .500 112
Jose Canseco 563 37 19 12.8% 28.1% .268 .326 .274 .371 .543 157
Ian Stewart 1282 54 13 10.3% 28.0% .206 .306 .245 .332 .451 95
Kyle Blanks 488 20 4 10.2% 31.6% .202 .289 .219 .316 .421 108
Russell Branyan 627 37 1 10.0% 36.5% .262 .310 .231 .316 .493 103
Chris Carter 249 13 1 12.4% 29.7% .207 .260 .217 .313 .424 104

How about a sobering moment after all that excitement? Giancarlo Stanton is a heck of a best-case scenario, but Carter’s numbers are inferior to Stanton’s in most ways. In fact, Carter places worst in most categories, and that on a list of players that includes Ian Stewart and Russell Branyan. It’s no wonder that it’s taken Carter so long to get a chance — at least Mark Reynolds, Stewart, Branyan had the opportunity to add some value with the glove at a tougher position than first base.

If his adjustments really have lead to a new approach, than his results will likely trump the .181 ISO that ZiPs has projected the rest of the way. He’s certainly improved his contact rate, which stabilizes quicker than other stats, so it’s possible that the heat maps tell the true story of his current true talent level. On the other hand, don’t forget his statistical comps when getting excited about him in your dynasty on-base-percentage league. He’s just as likely to flame out as he is to be useful.

At least Vernon Christopher Carter is finally free, either way.

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Graphs: Baseball, Roto, Beer, brats (OK, no graphs for that...yet), repeat. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.

6 Responses to “Vernon Christopher Carter is Freeing Baseballs”

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  1. The other Chris Carter says:

    I want to believe.

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  2. Cris Carter says:

    All I do is catch Touchdowns!!!

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  3. Adam G says:

    Good stuff. The one thing I would like to see is where the Vernon Christopher from 2011 fits on that comp chart, and where the 2012 Vernon Christopher fits. I know the 2012 numbers are likely to regress, but what if the 2012 VCC is the real deal?…..

    I really think the heat map demonstrates what I’ve seen from Carter this year. He looks like a major league hitter, and has adjusted mechanically and mentally, which is hard to do when you’re 25 years old. I’ve got my fingers crossed that he’s more Giancarlo than Branyan, but only time will tell. That whole Oakland team is fun to watch, and with Brett Anderson back on the mound, I think they could be a huge late season contender.

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  4. Smii says:

    All of those pitchers he has homered off suck. Not saying it means he’s a fluke, but it’s worth addressing.

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  5. Worm Turner says:

    I’ve seen most or all of his AB’s in the majors this year and last as well as some in AAA so here’s my eyeballing $.02.

    First and foremost the biggest change is his newfound confidence, he looks like another player, He has an almost serene quality to him now that is very encouraging. Another change is that he’s not trying to send every pitch to the moon.
    He is a physical presence in the box, several nights this year the difference has been palpable between how he’s pitched versus the rest of the A’s lineup.

    Now that he isn’t hacking much at pitches low and away he’s been getting into deeper more favorable counts and actually taking walks (?!!!) which were near absent last year.

    He also possesses plus wrist speed and has seemed to have shortened his swing.
    As a fan, he’s been as impressive as Yoenis in his short time up, seeing the two together at the plate and on deck must be pretty intimidating from a pitchers perspective.

    So great to have a team worth watching again.

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