When St. Louis Cardinals utility man Matt Carpenter was given a homework assignment for the winter to learn second base, defense wasn’t all the team was after.
Carpenter continues to work hard to learn the new position, but playing second base is secondary to the offense that he can provide.
Given that second base has been a revolving door for the Cardinals in recent years, to have a second baseman for a full season would be a major plus. Carpenter, however, likely isn’t looking at owning the position on a long-term basis.
With prospect Kolten Wong waiting on the sidelines for his first shot in the majors, in all likelihood Carpenter will only hold the position for a year—but that’s no guarantee.
Carpenter has an opportunity to make the position his for the long run.
The key for the Cardinals is to get Carpenter’s bat in the lineup—and keep it there.
Their offensive production at 2B in 2012 was, well, bad
The only position with a lower overall batting average than second base (.240) for the Cardinals last year was pitcher (.130). The next closest was right field with .273 overall.
Will Matt Carpenter be a solid second baseman in 2013?
That 30-point margin is far too great for a team that should be a strong contender. Without an improvement, the Cardinals are left with a giant hole in the middle of their lineup. That’s a risk they can’t afford to take.
Enter Matt Carpenter.
Compare that .240 batting average to Carpenter’s .294, and there’s a solid opportunity for large gains before you ever take into account other factors.
While Cardinals second basemen posted a lackluster average, their .309 OBP is also a cause for concern.
Coincidentally, getting on base is what Matt Carpenter does. His .365 OBP from 2012 is only exceeded by his impressive .412 postseason OBP. Carpenter's OBP in 2012, had he played second base, would have been the second highest in all of MLB, behind only Robinson Cano's.
While those two numbers alone are enough to justify moving Carpenter, they only begin to tell the story of why the Cardinals can’t afford to have him sitting on the bench watching games.
Look at what Carpenter did in under 300 at-bats
In his 296 at-bats, Carpenter drove in 46 runs. That’s more than Jon Jay (40 in 443 at-bats) and Daniel Descalso (26 in 374 at-bats).
With a full 500 at-bat season, a 75-RBI year would not be out of reach for Carpenter. That would be a huge total for a second baseman. In 2012, Cardinals second basemen managed only 59 RBI in 587 at-bats.
Another intriguing comparison is that in that same number of at-bats, second basemen combined for 25 doubles. In half that number of at-bats, Carpenter hit 22.
This is another reason his bat needs to be in the lineup.
Carpenter hits as well with runners in scoring position as without
Batting with runners in scoring position is where Carpenter truly excels.
With no one on base, he hits .315. With runners in scoring position, he hits .311. Statistically, that is almost no difference. What that means is that he handles the pressure well and doesn’t let it mess with his head.
He handles it so well, in fact, that with runners in scoring position and two outs, he hits .333.
The importance of this stat in terms of an upgrade at second base can’t be overstated because this is an area where many second basemen throughout baseball suffer.
If Carpenter's 2013 season is anywhere close to his 2012 campaign, he has the potential to be one of the top five offensive second basemen in the majors. While there’s still not a lot known about how he will manage defensively, he should more than make up for any defensive issues with his bat.
Don’t be so quick to write this move off as a single-season roster filler while the Cardinals await the next prospect. Matt Carpenter has the ability to make this position his.