You can’t kick everyone’s ass without finding a guy like Matt Carpenter.


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Earlier this year, Matt Carpenter was just a dude hanging out on a Triple-A Rangers team who almost no one in baseball thought had the Majors left. Now he hits the ball at a more intimidating pace than anyone else on the best team in the world. And it got even more ridiculous this past weekend when Carpenter hit his 12th and 13th home runs in 30 games as part of the New York Yankees’ decisive run over the Red Sox on Saturday. Never Yankee showed such strength for such a short period of games since the debut in the team.

For the first seven years of his career, Carpenter was an excellent hitter, sometimes with streaks month after month but fairly consistent year after year. In all but one season between 2012 and 2018, the all-round infielder has finished with OPS between .828 and .897. He was a reliable all-round hitter and a three-time All-Star for St. Louis, and his 2018 campaign, at age 32, was his best, with career highs of 36 home runs and 143 goals. OPS+.

However, in his subsequent 2019, Carpenter’s strength began to falter, his body began to show signs of wear and tear, and the greater use of the shift created more and more problems for the left-hander. After making the fewest plate appearances since he was a rookie, Carpenter broke barriers just 15 times and hit just .226. The shortened year of COVID-19 saw his average drop even further to 0.186 and 0.640 OPS, and in 2021, at age 35, there was an even bigger drop, to 0.169 and 0.581.

Thus ends a career in MLB. You’re a good player, then an average player, then an under-average player, and then such a liability that the only baseball club you’ve ever known can’t reasonably keep you on their roster. There is no obvious way to reverse this. This is how time passes. And although Carpenter found a job with the Round Rock Express and managed to hit like a big fish in a small pond in early 2022, the Rangers did not believe in him as a big league, and they mutually agreed to a split. Maybe so Carpenter could look elsewhere for an opportunity.

The weirdness that was Carpenter’s year begins with the fact that the franchise poised to give him a shot wasn’t some desperate tank job just looking for warm bodies, but a team that dominated the rest of the American League. A week after Carpenter left Round Rock, the injury-plagued Yankees bet his Triple A performance wasn’t a dead cat jump and brought him to the club as a DH and an occasional bench fielder. . Expectations were low, but Carpenter seemed happy that he didn’t have to retire yet.

“I told[Yankees manager Aaron]Boone, ‘If you want me to load the bags on the plane, I’ll do that,'” Carpenter said ahead of his first game on May 26. put on your yankee uniform and be part of the best baseball team right now. I just want to be here. Whatever that role looks like.”

Carpenter’s first few games with the Yankees were a little odd, but nothing that caught your fancy is remembered for both the new mustaches brought on by the team’s infamous facial hair policy and any heroic feats on the field. It seemed like the only way Carpenter could still get into base was by sending the ball where the displaced fielders could only watch it fly over their heads. He only went 3 of his first 16 at the plate, but all three of those hits were home runs. And as the Yankees got healthier and Carpenter settled into being a powerful left-hander off the bench, he did everything they could hope for. In late June, Carpenter hit .250 with six dingers in 36 AB. And he also didn’t mind using some old-timer trick to keep that spot in the big circles.

Thus, the Yankees got a reliable hitter for a fairly insignificant price. Good for them. You can always use them to get an advantage in the playoffs. But over the past few weeks, Carpenter has evolved into something much bigger, forcing himself into an everyday lineup with a non-stop hit parade that has everyone scratching their heads. On July 2, after getting his first start in 10 days in the first game of the doubleheader, Carpenter went 3 for 5 with two home runs in a 13-4 knockout from the Guardians. In his next start on the 5th, he got a couple more hits and another RBI. After a don against Boston on the 8th, Carpenter hit a ridiculous .305/.406/.814 in his limited performances. And surprisingly, as he played more and more over the last few episodes, all those numbers went up even higher. Carpenter now plays a key role in the Yankee attack, and such strikes are becoming more and more commonplace.

In retrospect, there is some evidence that this revival was possible, even if no one could have imagined its magnitude. Back in February, Ken Rosenthal had an article in The Athletic about Carpenter seeking guidance from Joey Votto to help recover his hit and return to the striker he used to be. Carpenter changed his bat, learned to swing harder and changed his approach to keep his bat in the zone longer. This genre of history isn’t all that unusual—many baseball players are trying unsuccessfully to return to the game that left them behind—but today it reads like a prophecy.

“Deep down I believe he still has a lot left,” Nolan Arenado said at the time. “He is trying to get back to who he is. And with the work I’ve seen him do, I believe he will.”

There’s no question that Carpenter is making better contact than he’s been in recent days in St. Louis, as his average exit speed is up nearly two miles per hour since last year and he’s hitting the ball almost twice as often. But between him and the Yankees there is a clear symbiosis, when each side improves the other. Carpenter’s slugging percentage is a whopping 1.143 at home compared to .727 in five more road games, showing how the transition from playing in the brutal left-handed batters’ stadium in St. Louis to the sandpit at Yankee Stadium has given him a boost. It’s also helpful that he’s now hitting in the middle of some of the worst lineups in the American League, with hitters like Judge, Rizzo and Stanton often hitting base or clearing them before Carpenter even hits the field. As a result, he’s seeing a noticeable surge in innings in the zone because pitchers who don’t want to be in the big names have to ultimately decide who to challenge. The opposing teams force Matt Carpenter to defeat them. And for now, that’s what it does.

You can’t hit .696 win percentage in the first half of the season without a few surprises. The Yankees were favorites to win the AL East earlier in the year before anyone even thought about Carpenter. But the way they beat the opposition on their way to a 13-game lead is still a bit of a stunner for everyone, and their +199 mileage difference implies they could be even better. The obvious credit goes to superstars like Gerrit Cole and Aaron Judge and regular writers like DJ LeMahieu, but the Yankees are where they are because they’ve paired their eight-figure salaries with unexpected success stories like Nestor Cortez and Jose Trevino. , both of whom became stars for the first time this year. Even more impressive is Carpenter, who won’t show up Tuesday but is still the fourth-best Yankee hitter in the WAR despite playing just a third of his team’s games. It’s tempting to call it unfair. But any team in the league could have Carpenter this year, if only they were willing to give him a chance.

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