It is no secret that the St. Louis Cardinals have been fantastic thus far in 2015. In fact, their 51-27 record with a .654 win percentage is the best in Major League Baseball. While the Cardinals—who have experienced some injury problems—have had a host of players contribute to the cause, it has been the play of veteran Matt Carpenter that has been a boon.
Producing a .362 wOBA and 133 wRC+ in 314 plate appearances this season, the lefty is on course for another solid year. In fact Carpenter, who was a 13th round pick in the 2009 draft, has actually done nothing but provide above league average value for the Redbirds at third base since 2013:
However, there is one negative thing that the 29 year old is doing a whole lot more of this year—striking out. So you know how players like, oh I don’t know, the entire Boston Red Sox team complain about balls being called strikes? Well in Carpenters’ case, this is actually true.
We have long known about the problem that hitters are facing in today’s game of a widening strike zone. In fact, as Jeff Passan reported earlier this year, the MLB Playing Rules Committee will "pay close attention to the size of the strike zone in 2015 with an eye on change as early as 2016". We have also known that an outside pitch to a lefty—otherwise known as a ‘lefty strike’—is more widely called a strike than it should be.
But how does this affect Carpenter? Baseball Savant has a great database with all of the Pitchf/x data ever recorded. One of its cool features is that it allows you to figure out where a pitch was actually thrown regardless of a swing or no swing. It is with this data that you can find out that Carpenter has been the unfortunate recipient of pitches outside of the strike zone being called strikes.
According to Baseball Savant’s Pitchf/x database, since 2013 Carpenter has led the league in balls being called strikes against him. Not to mention that, according to Brooks Baseball, pitchers aren’t giving Carpenter a break at this location, either. In fact, pitchers are beginning to target Carpenter low and away more than ever before. It is these pitches that are a main reason we have seen an uptick in strikeouts from the two-time All-Star.
|Season||Balls Called Strike%||K%|
The following graph shows the called strikes located in Baseball Savant's zones 11-14, which are zones out of the strike zone. You can see that he is getting a lot of called strikes low and outside, though some of the pitches low are within a strike zone drawing despite being located in zones 11-14.
For Carpenter, the increased strike calls play a role in his increased strikeouts but are only partially responsible. It is not only the frequency with which these calls are being made; it is the timing in which they are. More than half of the time these pitches occur against Carpenter when the count is even, meaning that it changes the tide toward the pitcher and puts the lefty in a hole. This season, balls called strikes happen to Carpenter almost 11 percent of the time he sees a pitch—and 54.35 percent of those pitches occur on an even count.
Carpenter, who is one of the more disciplined hitters in the game, has often used his patience at the plate to his advantage. While umpires aren’t quite agreeing that his plate discipline is well-founded, that doesn’t mean he’s going to change his approach. This season, Carpenter has swung at pitches the same as he has his whole career:
It’s not a stretch to say that Matt Carpenter is one of Major League Baseball’s best overall hitters. Although he might not showcase power like a Mike Trout or a Miguel Cabrera, he has consistently hit at a high level throughout his career. It should also be noted that Carpenter, as Craig Edwards pointed out, is a disciplined hitter who knows what he is looking for. Even when umpires make poor calls against him, he still manages to maintain an excellent eye for the strike zone. That plate discipline might be the most impressive thing—other than the fact that he has been ejected only once for these bad calls—about the Cardinals infielder.
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Shawn Brody is a contributor for Beyond the Box Score, as well as a sophomore pitcher at Howard Payne University majoring in Business Management. He has the current misfortune of being a Red Sox fan. If you would like to get ahold of him, please feel free to email him at Shawnbrody9@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @ShawnBrody.