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 baseballheatmaps.com, 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:
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.