Matt Carpenter is hitting so poorly, even his on-base percentage looks bad.
Normally, his brilliant ability to draw walks keep his OBP strong during slumps — or even during a tough season, like when he hit .241 last year but had a .384 OBP.
But so far in 2018, Carp has eight hits. One of them was a walk-off homer, yes. But eight hits in 50 at-bats (.160), so even his 14 walks make his OBP just .333.
So what do the Cards do? I think the answer is simply — something.
Move him down. Or even move him to the leadoff spot (others fear this, but it's not like Dexter Fowler has been Rickey Henderson so far in '18). But if they do nothing, if they keep him wedged in the No. 3 spot, that minimizes (in the short term, anyway) extra-base hits from that spot. Or even singles that could possibly move a runner over two bases, instead of the walk that means just station-to-station.
Carpenter's rare ability to walk is extremely valuable — it will help make this 2018 team strong. But right now, it seems risky to have him in the No. 3 spot, especially with so many other Cardinals walloping.
The streaking Birds head to Wrigley for three. In 234 career plate appearances at that bandbox, Carpenter's slash line is .236/.342./357. Against Monday's starter, Tyler Chatwood, he is 2 for 4 with a walk.
The good news is, a lot of other Cards hitters are feeling good after four nights in Cincinnati. Sunday was a little rougher, but overall, the Cardinals slashed .273/.368/525 in the four games at Great American Ball Park with nine homers.
Entering Sunday, one thought this would be the game for Carp to break out. For his career, he was 18-for-33 (.545) in his career against starter Homer Bailey.
Oh for four on the day.
What's up with Carp? It's fair to point out that the shift eats him up. Like, there have been numerous wimpy hits by other Cards this year, whereas Carpenter has had some rocketed low line drives to right field — except, alas, the perfectly placed second baseman is out there on the grass, 4-3, ho-hum. His batting average on balls in play this season is just .194. The league average is generally around .300.
And the walks are great – only Bryce Harper and Freddie Freeman have more than Carp's 14 in the National League. But to commandeer a No. 2 through No. 5 spot, he needs more overall production.
In this nascent season, Carpenter's strikeout rate is way up, compared to previous seasons. He strikes out 28.8 percent of the time, compared to the previous seasons of 20.1, 19.1, 22.7, 15.7, 13.7 and 18.5 as a rookie in 2012.
Check out Carpenter's swing percentage, which is, simply, the percentage of pitches a player swings at during the course of a season. In 2018, albeit an extremely smaller sample size, his swing percentage is 29.7, the lowest of his career (his career average is 36.5). A low swing percentage isn't a bad thing – it puts him in the company of some of 2018's most disciplined hitters thus far, including Rhys Hoskins, Joe Mauer, Mookie Betts and new St. Louis fan favorite Jose Martinez. The difference is, Carp's contact rate (60.9) is way low compared to those guys. So he's not swinging often, but when he does, he doesn't make contact that much. Walks are great. Walks are currency. But a No. 3 hitter must complement that with productive batted balls, not swings and misses.
Speaking of contact rate, how amazing is Martinez? Consider that he makes contact on 90.5 percent of the pitches he swings at. And as we stated, his swing percentage is low (37.1 percent, 12th lowest in the league). So he doesn't swing much, but when he does, he hitting the baseball. Remember when we wondered who would play first base?
It's really early in the season. It's not time to panic or long for a different lefty-hitting infielder (like a Joe Panik). But it's not too early to move Carpenter in the lineup to maximize others — and to let Carp find his Carp-ness in a less-important spot.