For Carpenter, hitting success hinges on power, not placement
Even Matt Carpenter isn’t sure where he best fits in the St. Louis Cardinals’ batting order.
“I’ve had three full seasons as a starter, and I feel like I’ve been different each year,” Carpenter said. “I feel like there are pieces of each season I would like to morph into one complete year. If I had a goal for 2016, that would be what it would be. Every year that I’ve had here in St. Louis, maybe have bits and pieces of that.”
Carpenter, 30, is ingrained as the Cardinals’ third baseman. His spot in the order, however, remains a topic of discussion. Were there no obvious candidate to replace Carpenter as the team’s lead-off hitter, he would be an option to hit second, third or perhaps in another RBI spot.
Carpenter led the power-hungry Cardinals in home runs in 2015 with 28, 11 more than Jhonny Peralta and Randal Grichuk. He topped the National League in doubles with 44 and scored 101 runs, which ranked fifth in the league. His on-base percentage was .365, high enough to bat at the top, but he struck out a career-high 151 times.
Trying to capitalize on Carpenter’s newly discovered long-ball skills, the Cardinals used him in the No. 2 spot from late April until late July, but he batted .225 and went back to the top. Carpenter battled what the team described as “extreme fatigue” in early May after a grueling series against Pittsburgh.
“I think I’m just continuing to develop and figure out who I am as a hitter,” Carpenter said. “Last year was a big step forward in finding out that I have some untapped power in there that I didn’t necessarily realize I had. Now it’s just a matter of putting it all together.”
Carpenter clearly enjoys his role as a table-setter, yet he continues to insist that he won’t overhaul an approach that has worked in the past.
“I’ve said this every year, and I say it because I mean it,” Carpenter said. “I’ll hit wherever Mike [Matheny] puts me. I know my approach as a hitter is not going to change no matter where I hit. I’m going to take the same at-bat if I were hitting three, one or nine.
Carpenter’s foundation is patience.
“If there are two things I know I can do consistently, it’s get on base and see a lot of pitches,” he said. “That’s the backbone of who I am as a hitter. As far as [whether] I’m a guy who is going to be a consistent power hitter, I don’t know. It’s too early to tell. But I think I’ve shown that ability. I’m going to try to put it all together this year, and hopefully I’m able to do that.”
Carpenter said the 28 home runs represented a trip into “uncharted territory.”
“I have never gone through anything like that, that power display,” Carpenter said. “It’s in there and now it’s a matter of making it consistent.”
Carpenter said, at presstime, that he had not had a conversation about his landing spot in the order.
“I know they’re confident in me and they know that I’ll go wherever they tell me,” Carpenter said. “I truthfully will always be the kind of guy who will do what’s best for the team.”
Cardinals General Manager John Mozeliak prefers to watch spring training before determining where Carpenter will settle.
“It’s sort of awkward to talk about lineup right now, given that we still have spring training to go through,” Mozeliak said in March. “I think Mike is open to looking at how to get the most out of it. He’s not fixed on any one thing going into it. I do think that looking at what Carpenter was able to do in the lead-off spot, you take him out, where does he go? Who hits there? I think we have options, but ultimately it will come down to where people are comfortable hitting from.”
Carpenter said a discussion about where he bats isn’t even necessary.
“If Mike calls me tomorrow and says, ‘Hey you’re going to bat in the three-hole tomorrow,’ it’s not going to affect what I do as a hitter,” Carpenter said. “It’s not like I have to go practice hitting as a three-hole hitter. There is nothing I’m going to change. If that’s something that they decide, I’ll be ready for it.”