St. Louis Cardinals infielder Matt Carpenter is a polarizing subject in Cardinal Nation.
One group thinks he is a solid, if not great, core player who has proved for years that he can get on base and hit for power. Another group doesn't like his lack of accountability and wants him to be the superstar he may never become.
Thankfully, Carpenter doesn't listen to anything about him on the internet. He does listen to teammates like Tommy Pham, who told the media he had conversations with Carpenter about his speed and baserunning. While he loves Pham's intensity and has known him for years, there were times when it got to be a little much.
"There were times last season where I was on second base and Tommy was on first, and he would yell let's go, and I would be like, relax," recalled Carpenter.
Carpenter tries to preach the same about his ability to hit leadoff and how many fans thinks it is the only place where he can be efficient. To Carpenter, the success there is due to pure "coincidence" and "circumstances". He even said experience played a heavy hand in his career success rate there.
Carpenter and the fans are both right here. In 575 career starts covering 2,594 plate appearances, Carpenter's OPS sits at .878, which is far better than his .720 OPS in 534 plate appearances batting second. He has 173 doubles and 344 walks when batting first, besting any other spot. However, the reason it does stand head and shoulders above the rest of the spots in the order are the number of times where he has found his name first on the lineup card.
"I don't tell Mike (Matheny) that I must hit leadoff. I'll hit wherever he wants me to," added Carpenter. With leadoff types like Pham and Dexter Fowler populating the roster, there is a possibility that Carpenter does see time outside the #1 spot. However, I simply don't think it will hold up and eventually, Carpenter will be back starting things off-and why not, the man is quite good there.
Carpenter reported that the shoulder injury that plagued parts of his 2017 season is gone and shouldn't have any chronic effects. When asked about shoulder injuries that can linger, Carpenter noted them, but insisted he had been told it wouldn't return.
When it comes to his defense, Carpenter has been told he should be prepared to play anywhere, which means the usual spots: first base, third base, and second base. He has spent a majority of a season playing each position, and when asked if he had to rank them in order of demand (aka difficulty), here is how he would rate them:
1. Third base
2. First base
3. Second base
Carpenter compared second base to a "short right field" and said as long as a guy can turn a double play, he's good to go. He said third base is where the most demand lies due to how active it is. Right now, it would look like Carpenter is playing first base to start 2018, and statistically speaking, it's his best spot.
Carpenter does like the ability of the lineup to make things hard for other teams. "It puts a lot of pressure on other teams. Pressure to throw strikes and pressure to not walk guys. When they worry about walking guys, they leave balls over the middle. Whatever it looks like, it's going to be a good lineup," Carpenter said.
He did admit that improving his baserunning is a priority, something he thinks Jose Oquendo can help. "I don't want to try for second base with (Marcell) Ozuna coming up, who has the ability to drive me in," Carpenter added. Far too many times, Carpenter got himself thrown out on second or third base stretching hits further than they were meant to go. If that stops, it equals more runs.
After a pair of playoff-less seasons, Carpenter expected change. "We've seen that with our coaching staff. There's some new faces and we traded others away. We did expect some of that. I wasn't surprised the moves we made. It's a competitive league," Carpenter added.
Carpenter did admit to feeling some urgency this year, but didn't seem to worry about the Cardinals chances. You won't hear a single player tell the media that it's looking kind of cloudy around St. Louis. This team expect to win, and Carpenter will do anything to help make that happen.
At 30 years old, Carpenter is now one of the older Cardinals on the roster, which surprised him when he looked at the roster this month. The age reveals that there is still a few things Carpenter wants to do in the game.
Will hitting leadoff require continued success? Carpenter doesn't seem to think so. He couldn't stress anything more than the fixation over the #1 spot.
Here's the thing: If Carpenter continues to pound out .375 OBP and a .460 SLUG, I'm not worried about batting average. If he costs the team less at first base, I'm happy with him there. If he continues to hit 30+ doubles and 20+ home runs, that's even better.
Over 2,500 at bats support the idea that Carpenter is a great leadoff guy. If that's the case, keep him there. It's definitely not what is broke with the Cardinals lineup.