For the past four seasons, Matt Carpenter has led off the majority of games for the Cardinals. But with the off-season acquisition of Dexter Fowler, a more typical leadoff hitter will be at the top of the lineup for St. Louis in 2017.
Why Carpenter Doesn’t Fit
Although Carpenter did posses some of the best qualities that a leadoff hitter can have, especially his high OBP, Carpenter’s recent career path is moving him more to a middle-of-the-lineup hitter. Carpenter does have a very impressive career OBP of .376, but that number has been trending down in recent years, as his SLG has increased. In his 2016 season with the Cardinals, Carpenter recorded a SLG of .505 for the second straight year, while hitting 21 home runs and 36 doubles.
Out of all qualified players in the MLB last season who had SLG above .500, only 10 players have more doubles than Matt Carpenter. And out of those 10 players, only one, Mookie Betts, is a leadoff hitter. Typically, when a player has power the level of Carpenter, they are moved to 3rd in the lineup, in order to generate more RBIs.
Unfortunately, Carpenter does not have the typical base running ability needed to excel as a leadoff hitter for the Cardinals. Carpenter has stolen only 13 bases in his 6 year career, while being caught stolen 14 times. In 2016 Carpenter scored a -3.3 BsR, which is a metric that measure base running ability (which has an average of 0). Lifetime, Carpenters BsR is 4.4, which averages to below one per full season.
Carpenter’s ability to get on base and to hit for power make him a essential part of the Cardinals lineup, but his lack of speed and base running hurt his value of him as a leadoff hitter.
Why Fowler is a Perfect Fit
Meanwhile, Fowler has the OBP, the speed, and the base running ability to be one of the best leadoff hitters in the league. Lifetime, Fowler has a .366 OBP, but has been improving recently, especially in 2016 when he recorded a .393 OBP, which was good for 11th best in the MLB out of qualified batters. Fowler also scored a 6.2 BsR, which was the 8th highest in the league out of qualified batters.
In 3 different years, Fowler recorded a higher annual BsR than Carpenter has achieved lifetime. Also, Fowler has swiped 127 bags in 184 career attempts. In five different seasons, Fowler has stolen 13 bases (which is Carpenters career total) or more. It is obvious that Fowler is far superior to Carpenter on the base path.
Although Fowler does have some pop, posting a .447 and .422 SLG for 2016 and his career, respectively, most of that high SLG comes from triples and doubles that come from his speed. Fowler averages just under 25 doubles and 9 triples per year, but only hits on average about 10 home runs per year.
Overall, Fowler has the three characteristics needed to be a great lead off hitter. He gets on base very often, in fact the 11th most frequently in 2016. He successfully steals bases, and he was the 8th best player at running the bases in 2016.
In the last five seasons, Fowler has compiled an OBP of .373 and a BsR of 18.5. In terms of comparable players for these statistics, there was only 1 other qualified player from 2012-2016 who had a BsR above 16 and an OBP above .373. You may have heard of the other player before: Mike Trout (a.k.a. the greatest player of our generation).
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