I have long been an advocate for batting players with the best On-Base Percentage at the top of your lineup. It makes sense that you should want the guys getting on base the most to have the most at bats.
Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but Cardinals All Star Second Baseman Matt Carpenter has fit the ideology nicely. The question then becomes, why has Carpenter been so successful at getting on base at the top of the order?
Even if Carpenter doesn’t necessarily look like a stereotypical leadoff hitter, and doesn’t steal bases in bunches, he does get on base. Carpenter is sixth in the NL in OBP (.394) and sixth in AVG (.321). What else can we point to when we talk about the value of Carpenter at the top of the batting order?
Let’s talk about the notion of “good at-bats.” How do we define a good at-bat? For a leadoff hitter, I think it’s fair to define a good at-bat as one seeing a high number of pitches, and ultimately getting on base. Here is what we come up with outside of Batting Average and On-Base Percentage when it comes to Carpenter (all numbers courtesy of Fangraphs.)
Carpenter has 408 total plate appearances this year, fourth most in the National League. In those 408 appearances, he has seen 4.06 pitches per each of those plate appearances, ninth best in the NL.
What is he doing with these at-bats? He certainly isn’t wasting his opportunities.
Carpenter rarely offers at balls outside of the strike zone, swinging at just 22.2% of pitches outside the zone. That’s the third best rate in the National League. And he doesn’t whif much either, swinging and missing for a strike just 3.6% of the time, sixth best in the NL.
What about when a ball is in the zone? Well, that’s where Carpenter makes his swings count, with a 97.2% contact rate for balls in the strike zone, second best in the NL. Out of his batted balls, 26.6% of them are line drives, also second best in the NL.
It may seem overly simplistic that your players with the best on-base numbers should hit high in the order. I’d argue that when you look a little deeper, it really is true that Carpenter has better at-bats than most of the National League.
Guys that value pitches inside of the strike zone and find their way on base are the ones you want getting the most plate appearances so that they can get driven in and generate runs.
So taking that into account, it’s no surprise that Carpenter is sixth in the NL in “runs created” with 70. The basic way of defining the runs created stat (created by Bill James) is On-Base Percentage (x) Total Bases.
While it certainly helps that Carpenter has a lineup behind him batting well above .300 with Runners In Scoring Position, it also helps that he is getting into scoring position in the first place.
The Cardinals have found a bona fide leadoff hitter in Matt Carpenter, and the results are in the numbers. Hopefully people realize there is more to batting at the top of the order than legging out ground balls and attempting to steal bases.
For the time being, it appears Matt Carpenter and the Cardinals have realized just that.