photo: Matt Carpenter (Patrick Gorski/USA TODAY Sports)
Last season, Matt Carpenter’s two-year reign as The Cardinal Nation’s St. Louis Cardinals Player of the Year ended due to the strong campaign forged by Tommy Pham.
For 2018, Carpenter returned to the top of the team’s leaderboard with a 5.0 fWAR season that was ninth-best in the National League. It represents his strongest showing since 2015 (5.3) and third-best in his career (7.2 in 2013). In doing so, the 32-year old Texan claims his third TCN Player of the Year award in the last four years.
The winner’s 2018 story
As most readers know, Carpenter was far from steady and consistent in 2018. When the corner infielder was hot, he was really hot, and when he was cold, he struggled mightily. His team’s fortunes seemed to follow.
Limited in spring training due to back soreness, in the 11 games in which he did play, Carpenter batted a cool .391 with a pair of home runs and six RBI and seemed ready to go.
However, to say the leadoff man got out of the regular season gates slowly is a massive understatement. Carpenter batted just .155 during April and reached his low point on May 15 with his season average down to .140 – after he had sat out two of the prior three games. Carpenter had hit just three home runs over the season’s first six weeks as many wondered what was wrong.
The corner was turned as Carpenter batted .393 over the second half of May, including seven multi-hit games. Still, his improvement had not been far enough along that he would receive his fourth All-Star berth.
Following the break, in mid-July, Carpenter homered in six consecutive games, and the next month, logged a seven-game RBI streak. Among his other Cardinals highs for the year were a five-hit, three home run and seven RBI game (July 20 – one of his two five-hit games), a five runs-scored outing (6/26) and a four doubles performance (8/26).
Even so, his longest hitting streak of 2018 was a modest eight games, but his ability to take walks is evidenced by his 35-game on-base streak, which ended on August 21.
Carpenter was the National League Player of the Week twice in late July into early August and was named the National League Player of the Month for July. Not coincidentally, it coincided with the Cardinals’ resurgence, as the team went 28-13 from the All-Star break through the end of August.
“He’s been as valuable as any player in the NL,” Cardinals general manager Michael Girsch said. “He single-handedly kept us from falling out of the race.”
Carpenter’s homemade salsa, originally created from tomatoes grown under the direction of gardener Adam Wainwright, became the legend behind his turnaround.
However, the salsa magic soon ran out. In the final month, Carpenter’s National League MVP candidacy wilted as the Cardinals playoff hopes were spoiled – or was it the other way around?
In September, Carpenter hit just one home run on the way to a .170/.313/.245/.558 slash line. During this period, his OBP, slugging, OPS, home runs, RBI and strikeouts were even worse than during his dreadful April.
St. Louis went 12-15 the final month, missing the post-season.
Even so, in aggregate, it was a strong year for the left-handed hitter. Carpenter’s total of 36 home runs was just two off a share of the National League lead and represents his career best. His 42 doubles were also just two away from a share of the league lead.
But he could also play small ball, as his eight bunt hits tied for tops in the league and he added 12 infield hits. Most impressively, Carpenter did not ground into a double play over the entire season (677 plate appearances).
Though the identity of our winner is clear, there were a number of other noteworthy offensive performances by Cardinals players in 2018. Let’s look at the stats, presented in fWAR sequence from high to low.
12 of St. Louis’ 21 position players generated a positive fWAR, with TCN’s Rookie of the Year and defensive standout Harrison Bader second to Carpenter and Paul DeJong close behind. Bader also paced the club with 15 steals.
Marcell Ozuna, with 23 home runs, and Yadier Molina, who hit 20 at age 35/36, joined Carpenter to comprise the club’s trio of 20-home run hitters.
Jose Martinez was second to Carpenter in games played and slugging and was St. Louis’ only .300 hitter. His .305 mark was seventh in the NL batting race.
Not surprisingly, Carpenter’s walk rate led those players still with the team, but his 23.3 percent strikeout rate represents his career high. Rookie Tyler O’Neill draws all the wrong attention with both the lowest walk rate (4.9%) and highest strikeout rate (40.1%) on the club. Yadier Molina and Kolten Wong were best at avoiding the strikeout.
Carpenter and O’Neill led the Cards in Isolated Power (ISO), with DeJong next. Bader, Martinez and O’Neill all had high BABIPs, suggesting some good fortune. The BABIPs of Molina and Wong were a bit low and Dexter Fowler’s was exceptionally low.
In a catch-all offensive measure, Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+), where 100 is considered average, Carpenter was tops among the regulars, followed by Martinez. Bader falls back, as his high fWAR is primarily due to his defense. Also noteworthy is rookie Patrick Wisdom’s strong showing in his limited MLB debut, productive despite his customary high strikeouts.
Prior years’ winners
Our top player honorees over the past decade follow.
|TCN Player of the Year|
These winners are also permanently recorded under “SEASON RECAPS/TOP PLAYERS,” located on the left red menu bar here at The Cardinal Nation.
Link to master article with all 2018 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. Next up will be our final article in the series, our in-depth St. Louis season recap.
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