The 2013 St. Louis Cardinals had a great deal of success, winning 97 games and the National League Pennant, but it is very scary to think how different the season might have looked for the Cards if it were not for Matt Carpenter. Carpenter enjoyed a breakout season and moved to fill two spots of need for the Cardinals, second base and leadoff hitter, both new spots for Carpenter.
Carpenter flourished to the tune of a .318 batting average and a .392 on-base percentage, en route to the silver slugger award for his position. In just his first season as an everyday player, Carpenter was one of the most valuable Cardinals.
It was an incredibly encouraging season for Carpenter, 28, but it is unclear if the Cardinals can count on him for the same production this year. Carpenter finished fourth in the National League MVP voting, while leading the league in hits (199), doubles (55), and runs (126). Duplicating those numbers would be a lot to ask from not just Carpenter, but any major leaguer.
Carpenter established himself as an astute leadoff hitter with a scorching May, hitting .352, and following it up with a solid June when he hit .342 according to baseball-reference.com. The rest of the season outside of those two months Carpenter merely hit .302, a very good average, but probably a better indicator of his abilities than his season total of .318. Carpenter is very well regarded around the league for his discipline at the plate and bat control. But even considering his great fundamentals a regression in his batting average is likely.
This year Carpenter will man third base, and a position change on defense might not be his only move. With the Cardinals’ offseason addition of Peter Bourjos and their commitment to Kolten Wong at second base, it is possible that Carpenter may not lead off the batting order in 2014. Both Bourjos and Wong are faster and considered better baserunners than Carpenter, so if either of them can get on base consistently they might be seen as a better option at leadoff. If that is the case, Carpenter can replace the departed Carlos Beltran in the number two slot in the order. Then he will have more opportunities to drive in runs and show his power, something he is very capable of.
Matt Carpenter has good instincts, a consistent approach, and by all accounts works hard, so continued success should be expected of him. But what degree of success if the question. He could find a new niche again in the second spot of the batting order. It is tough to assume his name will be scattered across the league leaderboards as it was in 2013, but then again it was huge surprise last year, so why not?
Carpenter’s success was directly related to the Cardinals’ success last year. He is too good of a player to let his numbers drop dramatically. If Carpenter’s numbers slip only slightly the Cardinals will still have a great chance to make the playoffs. But if Carpenter matches his 2013 success, the Cards could be looking at another division crown and home field advantage throughout the playoffs.