As of the time of this writing, 271 people voted in yesterday’s poll and 55% of you would utilize Matt Carpenter in a kind of super utility role between the corner outfield, corner infield and second base positions. there’s not a wrong answer to yesterday’s question and I think I personally would be inclined to keep in majors in that role as well.
One of the comments caught my eye, however. Lou Schuler wrote:
I love [Carpenter] as a utility player, but [Zack] Cox looks like a guy who’s going to be an everyday player hitting in the top half of the lineup.
It struck me as an undervaluation of Carpenter (the “utility player” label) but it’s one that I think consistently happens to him because of his somewhat unusual offensive profile. Assume that Matt Carpenter is going to have an OBP between .320 and .340 (ZiPS projects .342). Since wOBA is scaled to OBP, we can use that as a decent approximation for his production. For someone with limited power potential, we would scale that number down slightly from his OBP. That range (.320-340) is still going to make Matt Carpenter a league average-ish player.
But can you think of a player that has that kind of a profile? Someone who walks frequently, low power output and maintains a league average wOBA? Looking at 2011, I found a three players from last year that fit that loose criteria.
|Player Name||wOBA||BB%||ISO||UZR||fWAR||DN fWAR|
If you adjust Bobby Abreu from a corner outfield to third base, his defense neutral fangraphs WAR (DN fWAR) would be 1.9. That last column strips out the defensive bonus’s that the player achieved through UZR in an effort to give you an approximation of Matt Carpenter. Alberto Callaspo is a better statistical comparison than I expected to find. The point being that Matt Carpenter would be a better than average player if he received a full season’s playing time and met even some of the pessimistic expectations for his offensive output (namely OBP).
Now the Cardinals utilized Allen Craig in almost exactly this fashion despite his numbers telling the tale of a starting caliber position player. There are benefits to be reaped from it but there’s also a cap on how much you can work Matt Carpenter in the game as a bench player — especially given the redundancy between he and Daniel Descalso (LH, 3rd base, young players).
Whatever the Cardinals decide to do with him, it’s worth noting that even modest 2012 expectations for the player who has minor league career line of .300/.408/.451 would make him better than your typical “utility player”. Those expectations would make him a starter at third base on other teams. Don’t be deceived by the unusual profile. This kid can play at a high level even if it doesn’t “look” like a typical third baseman profile.