by Daniel Conmy
While the Cardinals are nine games out of first place, they are still four games over .500. The Cardinals ability to remain relevant is impressive to say the least. We've seen Jeremy Hazelbaker provide positive value before flaming out and being optioned to Triple-A. Aledmys Diaz, although atrocious defense at short, continues to fire on all cylinders at the plate. These are players that have performed above expectations, but there is one Cardinals player that is seemingly getting better each year and that is Matt Carpenter.
The left-handed hitting infielder has 54 walks to 53 strikeouts and has continued to raise his ISO every year since 2014. What does that tell us? Carpenter has elite control of the strikezone, but now he is damaging pitches farther and at a much higher rate than in years past. Carpenter has a 167 wRC+, which is better than his best mark in 2013 when he posted a 146 wRC+. We cannot assume that Carpenter will keep up his blistering pace, but we can dig into the numbers to see if there is some sustainability to the numbers put forth.
We already noted that Carpenter has elite ability with his understanding of the strikezone. To add to that Carpenter has raised his contact rate inside the zone. Last year, Carpenter hit 87 percent of the balls pitched inside the zone and this year he's raised that number to 92.8 percent. That's quite an uptick within the zone. Outside the zone, he's lowered his rate by a measly 1.5 percent, but every percentage point makes a significant difference over a 162-game season.
Another piece of information to look at before believing the numbers put forth are his splits. It's been noted that there are usually splits between same handedness batter and pitcher. And, yes, Carpenter faces that issue, but he is still 43 percent better than league average when facing a left-handed pitcher.
Now, for my favorite Matt Carpenter piece of information. Carpenter's hard hit percentage has risen while his soft hit percentage has fallen below ten percent. Carpenter now makes hard hit contact on 43.9 percent of the balls he puts in play. While his ground ball, fly ball, and line drive rates have remained seemingly constant over the past couple years, Carpenter is in the top ten in average distance on every batted ball. This is can begin to explain why Carpenter has seen his isolated power improve from .103 in 2014 to .285 in 2016.
While these numbers show extreme improvement from the infielder, this is half a seasons worth of data and plenty of things can change from here until the rest of the season. This is a cautionary note, but with Carpenter's elite contact skills, I see no reason from him slowing down his torrid pace. While all credit should be placed on Carpenter's ability, you have to wonder how the St. Louis Cardinals continue to develop great players deep in their draft classes.