For all of Mike Matheny‘s sacrifice bunting (and browbeating Shelby Miller over his inability to hold runners) and Matt Carpenter‘s ill-advised base-running bungles (he is second on the team in outs on the bases) both men deserve credit for one important thing this season: Carpenter is an outstanding leadoff man.
Back on Apr. 18, Matheny broke conventional wisdom and replaced outfielder Jon Jay in the no.-1 spot with Carpenter, a 6’3″ third baseman turned second baseman. Over the ensuring two weeks, the two players traded time atop the lineup, but now it appears that Carpenter, who has started the last nine games as the team’s leadoff hitter, has the role for the time being. And he deserves it.
Matheny deserves some praise, too, for going against the grain and putting forward Carpenter, certainly not a prototypical leadoff guy. Of course, it’s 2013, and everyone by now should know — though they obviously don’t — what Bill James told us all in 1988: The largest variable determining how many runs a team will score is how many times they get their leadoff man on base. Carpenter is rather tall for a leadoff man — think Corey Hart — and hits for power, or at least he did last year. As a former third baseman-outfielder, Carpenter is more in the mold of notorious mold-breaker Brian Downing, who as a designated hitter was an unlikely leadoff man, though it’s where he hit most of his career.
As with Downing, another attribute that makes Carpenter an unlikely leadoff man is his lack of speed. It’s not that Carpenter is slow, of course. But he has attempted only two stolen bases (a restraint that belies his carelessness on the bases otherwise this season) in his brief career and has a career 0.0 Baserunning score. That lack of swiftness runs counter to what we’ve come to know about our table setters in St. Louis, which has seen legendary base stealers like Lou Brock and Vince Coleman, not to mention Lonnie Smith and Ozzie Smith, race around the bases. To put Carpenter’s disinterest in swiping into perspective, of the 15 players in the NL who have at least 75 plate appearances at leadoff, only one other player besides Carpenter hasn’t tried to steal a base this season — his teammate and the team’s erstwhile leadoff man, Jay.
But it’s not for lack of chances, which is what makes Carpenter such a smart choice as leadoff man. He’s third in the league in OBP as a leadoff batter, the most important asset that a leadoff man can have:
|1||Shin Soo Choo||CIN||146||4||1||.465|
If Carpenter keeps it up — not totally out of the realm of possibility, given his .365 OBP last year — he’ll be the team’s best leadoff man since the juice-enabled Fernando Vina. Recent Cardinal leadoff men:
Even if he merely repeats what he did last year, Carpenter will have been a success as a non-traditional leadoff man. For all of his feckless conventional moves, Matheny deserves credit for this inspiring unconventional one.