Matt Carpenter has likely played his last game as a St. Louis Cardinal
. Over the past decade, he has slugged (and walked) his way into the hearts of Cardinal Nation. While he is widely loved by Cardinals fans, it is easy to forget just how productive Matt Carpenter has been over the past decade for the Cards. Here is a look back at Carp’s decade with the Cardinals, and why it may have been an even better career than many realize.
Carpenter debuted on June 4, 2011, at Busch Stadium versus the Chicago Cubs. He posted a 1-5 performance with his first career hit coming as a two-out double off of veteran Kerry Wood in the bottom of the ninth of a tied ballgame. His five at-bats that game comprised one-third of all the at-bats he would see in 2011, as he rounded out the year finishing 1-15.
2012 was Carpenter’s first year seeing significant big league action, as he appeared in 114 games. He started 80 games, primarily as a corner infielder. He had an excellent rookie year, slashing .294/.365/.463 with 6 HR and 46 RBI. His offensive production was good for a 1.5 WAR and sixth place in the rookie of the year voting.
Carp’s standout rookie year earned him the starting second base role heading into 2013, and he ran with it and never looked back. In the four years from 2013 to 2016, Carpenter appeared in 598 games for the Cardinals, slashing a strong .284/.378/.464 with 68 HR and 289 RBI. In that span, he was also consistently near the top of the league in walks and led the NL in walks in 2014 with 95. His production over these four years earned him three All-Star selections and a Silver Slugger. He helped lead the Cardinals to a World Series in 2013, and three straight first-place finishes in the NL Central from 2013-2015.
His knack for getting on base via the walk led to solidifying himself as an unconventional leadoff hitter. While he lacked the speed of a traditional leadoff man, his ability to get on base made him a weapon at the top of the order. His combination of power and discipline in the leadoff spot caught the eye of other managers around the league. Carpenter was one of the first in a growing trend of using players similar to him as leadoff hitters. Notable examples that followed were Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber, and Carlos Santana, all of whom saw significant at-bats as leadoff hitters.
While Matt did see a slight downturn in batting average during the three years from 2017-2019, his combination of discipline and power continued to make him a valuable asset to the Cardinals. He slashed .243/.367/.462 in 430 games played, and put up 74 HR and 196 RBI. Compared to the four years prior, his on-base and slugging remained essentially the same, while slugging 6 more homers in 168 fewer games played. He put up an impressive back-to-back 100+ walk seasons in 2017 and 2018. His ability to play second base in addition to both corners also provided massive value and depth to the Cardinals, and allowed managers Mike Matheny
and Mike Shildt more freedom and flexibility when creating the lineup.
The past couple of years have seen Carpenter slow down offensively. He has slashed .176/.313./.291 over the past two years while seeing diminished playing time. However, his ability to post a respectable .313 OBP while going through the worst stretch of his career is a testament to his elite ability to get on base. While his on-field production may have lessened, his veteran presence in the clubhouse has continued to be invaluable. Rookie Lars Nootbaar has openly voiced
how influential Carp’s advice has been regarding pinch-hitting. Additionally, the ability of an established veteran to be humble and accept his changing role on a contending team sets a winning culture in the clubhouse and sets a foundation for younger players to build on going forward.
The Legacy of Matt Carpenter
Matt Carpenter has carved out an underrated legacy. His production over the past ten years has cemented him as one of the greatest on-base and power combinations in Cardinals’ history. Here is where Carp ranks in some pertinent categories, and some legends that he has outpaced.
– 6th all-time among Cardinals in walks with 699; ahead of Lou Brock, Rogers Hornsby, Red Schoendienst, Yadier Molina, and other Cardinals Hall of Famers
– 3rd all-time among Cardinals in walk percentage, walking 13.4% of the time; ahead of Albert Pujols, Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, and other Cardinals Hall of Famers
– 11th all-time among Cardinals in AB/HR, homering once every 28.41 at-bats; ahead of Rogers Hornsby, Bill White, Ted Simmons, and other Cardinals Hall of Famers
– 13th all-time among Cardinals in doubles; ahead of Curt Flood, Jim Edmonds, Willie McGee, and other Cardinals Hall of Famers
He has given us countless memories. He’s carried the team at times and has simply been a veteran voice at times. He has been a middle-of-the-order threat and an on-base machine out of the leadoff spot. He has been a middle infielder, a corner infielder, an outfielder, a designated hitter, and even a pitcher. He’s been on a World Series Cardinals teams and playoff-missing Cardinals teams. He’s been through it all wearing the Birds on the Bat. The long, fluid, lefty swing. The keen eye at the plate. The beard. The dramatic homers and under-appreciated leadoff walks. For everything you have given Cardinal Nation over the past 11 seasons, thank you #13.
Embed from Getty Images
Matt Carpenter, Kerry Wood, Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Schwarber, Carlos Santana, Lars Nootbaar, Lou Brock, Rogers Hornsby, Red Schoendienst, Yadier Molina, Albert Pujols, Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Bill White, Ted Simmons, Curt Flood, Jim Edmonds, Willie McGee