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As Matt Carpenter struggles, the St. Louis Cardinals must find a fix

For a better part of the half decade, Matt Carpenter had terrorized opposing pitchers, often hitting for power and average. However, the St. Louis Cardinals’ infielder has slowed down considerably in recent years, most notably due to age.

The big picture: With Carpenter’s continued struggles at the plate, the Cardinals need to make a move and fast, especially if they want to stay competitive in the National League Central.

Cardinals’ case for keeping Carpenter

As it stands, the Cardinals are hoping that the 35-year-old Carpenter can find some semblance of the hitter he once was. During his prime, Carpenter was arguably one of the most-feared hitters in the Cardinals’ lineup as he was able to grind out at-bats and made opposing pitchers pay whenever they made a mistake.

In what could be considered his prime – from his age-26 to age-32 seasons– Carpenter was stellar.

  • He averaged 22 home runs and 78 RBI, slashing .275/.377/.471 with an OPS of .849 per 162 games
  • Had more hits (142) than strikeouts (116), showcasing his plate discipline
  • Was a three-time All-Star and had an outside shot of winning the National League MVP in 2013, 2015 and 2018

When fully right, Carpenter is an indispensable part of the Cardinals’ lineup. This dangerous hitter was who the Cardinals were looking for when they signed him to an extension in 2019 to keep him in St. Louis for the next few years. However the opposite has happened the last two years.

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Why the St. Louis Cardinals should sit Matt Carpenter

St. Louis Cardinals star Matt Carpenter continues his struggles.
Apr 7, 2021; Miami, Florida, USA; St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina (4) is greeted at the plate by Matt Carpenter after hitting a two-run home run against the Miami Marlins during the seventh inning at loanDepot Park. Mandatory Credit: Rhona Wise-USA TODAY Sports

Since signing that extension, Carpenter’s production has taken a massive dip. Gone was the player that terrorized opposing pitchers for their mistakes and instead, a new, more passive hitter took his place. Although he was still able to grind out at-bats, Carpenter’s body language looked off as he often swung – and missed – at pitches he would usually hit and looked to be a tad slow on fastballs.

As a result, in the two years since his extension – including the COVID-shortened 2020 season – Matt Carpenter has struggled.

  • He’s averaging 10 home runs and 35 RBI, hitting .216/.332/.372 with a .704 OPS
  • Struck out more (88) than he hit (60)
  • Saw his zone contact drop to an average of 77.4% – well below his average of 85.4% – and saw his exit velocity drop to 88 MPH in 2019

Carpenter’s 2021 Spring Training was even worse. He went 2-of-37, hitting .054 with two RBI. Although Spring Training is rarely an indicator of how good someone plays – I.E. Shohei Ohtani and his recent exploits as both a hitter and pitcher – with Carpenter, the Cardinals would be hard-pressed to ignore those numbers, considering recent history.

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The big picture: The Cardinals should bench Matt Carpenter

In all, it appears that Carpenter’s time as a full-time rotation piece has come to an end. Though some fans may want him to be designated for assignment, this seems like a drastic measure considering that Carpenter can still potentially be a solid pinch-hitter when needed.

The fact of the matter is, Carpenter is just not the same player he once was and that’s just the way the game is. As a whole, he just looks slower to recognize pitches and when he does make contact, he’s had trouble adjusting to the shift, which more and more teams are implementing against him. If he does beat the shift, the power that he once displayed just isn’t there anymore.

Once Harrison Bader returns from the IL and claims his rightful place at center, that moves Justin Williams to the bench and Dylan Carlson back to right. Tyler O’Neill stays at left with Tommy Edman going to second full time. That leaves Carpenter without a position and a seat on the bench.

With the Cardinals hoping to make it deep into October with the newly-acquired Nolan Arenado, this is the best option for all parties unless something drastic happens with Carpenter.