If there is one guy who can pick up a stone and sling it at the immortal Jake Arrieta, it’s Matt Carpenter. He has a history of knocking down tough guys in the playoffs. Clayton Kershaw, anyone?
When I sat down and started thinking about which St. Louis Cardinals player meant the most to this 100-62 team, it came down to two players for me. Neither was a pitcher. As good as the rotation and bullpen was, it’s hard for me to give to a player who only appears in a fraction of the games. For me, unless a pitcher is unreal like Clayton Kershaw, the MVP is an everyday grinder. For me, it came down to Matt Carpenter and Jason Heyward. While Heyward was a steady hitter from early May until the end of September and a gold glove candidate in the field, Carpenter takes the top spot here because of his effect on the Cardinals.
This offense does go where Carpenter’s bat takes them. When he hits, they win. When he seems to spiral out of control and go into a massive slump or becomes unlucky at the plate, they lose or don’t win as often. Carpenter had 52 multi-hit games in 2015 and the Cardinals record in those games was 35-17, which is a .673 winning percentage. When Carp collects a couple hits, the Cards seem to win a lot of games.
In 2015, Carpenter had another great statistical season. He started off hotter than anyone in baseball, hitting .372 with an OPS over 1.000. He cooled off in May and went into a prolonged slump in June and July, taking off a series in Pittsburgh due to exhaustion and dehydration. He also moved out of the leadoff spot in late April and wasn’t the same afterwards. Chalk it up as a weird coincidence or a crazy stat, but Carpenter seems to be at his best when he leads off.
In 314 at bats in the leadoff spot in 2015, Carpenter hit .314 with an OPS of 1.023. He slugged .634 from the leadoff spot. In 260 at bats elsewhere, he hit .224 and his OPS was below .700. One can say he simply happens to hit good when he is in the #1 spot, but the stats back up the fact over the past three seasons that Carpenter likes starting things off.
Carpenter’s .871 OPS in 2015 is only two points shy of his 2013 breakout season total. His OPS+ of 135 is only five points shy of his 2013 total. Carpenter’s WAR(via baseball reference) of 4.0 isn’t as otherworldly as his 6.4 in 2013 but still stands as a solid mark.
What separated Carp from the pack in 2015 were his power stats. The man became a lethal power bat. Carpenter led the Cardinals in home runs(28), RBI(84), doubles(44), runs scored(101), and on base percentage(.365). He was 2nd to Randal Grichuk in slugging(.505). His ability to get on base consistently compelled the Cards to win a lot of baseball games but his ability to strike a lethal blow to the opposing team with a home run or double was just as decisive.
Carpenter’s 151 strikeouts also led the Cardinals and that was a product of his expanded strike zone. Carpenter’s swing seemed to adapt to more a power stroke and that led to the higher percentage of whiffs. In 2015, offspeed pitches got the best of Carpenter, especially in June(25 percent whiff percentage) and September(30 percent). Still, the higher strikeout total can be digested as long as the OBP, SLUG and overall production stayed prevalent, which it did in 2015. Also, Carpenter drew 81 walks.
The defense isn’t flashy but Marp can make a great play when needed. Carpenter won’t win a gold glove at third base but he gets the job done and can also play second base, first base and the outfield. His versatility in the field outshines his sharpness at one particular position.
In the end, Carpenter’s ability to get on base, hit for power and put together an all around consistent season at the plate and in the field makes him my MVP candidate for the Cardinals. He battled some tough spots, but more than any player personified the grinding aspect of this 2015 team. When he is on, the Cards seem to win games and his effect at the top of the lineup is vital to their success.
You can’t go wrong with Jason Heyward, but my Cardinals MVP of 2015 is Matt Carpenter.
Sure, Carpenter is only 0-16 against Arrieta with five walks and four strikeouts, but everything changes in the playoffs. Certain players have a way of stepping up. Carpenter is one of those guys.