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Player Background

Matt Carpenter was drafted by St. Louis in the 13th round in 2009 out of TCU and made his major-league debut two years later in 2011, playing seven games with the Cardinals before establishing himself as a regular in 2012. Playing his first minor-league season at the relatively old age of 24, his first assignment was High-A Palm Beach. He excelled there, showing bat-to-ball skills, plate discipline and doubles power, earning a promotion to Double-A Springfield after a month where he hit .316/.412/.487 over the last hundred games of the season. He posted a similar line in Triple-A in 2010, hitting .302/.419/.465 over 535 plate appearances in what would be his final season in the minors aside from a few rehab stints later in his career.

As a major-leaguer, Carpenter has been a productive, consistent and versatile part of the Cardinals’ lineup for five full seasons. His fantasy value and reliability are easy to see in this table:

Year

Age

G

R

HR

RBI

SB

BA

OBP

SLG

2012

26

114

44

6

46

1

0.294

0.365

0.463

2013

27

157

126

11

78

3

0.318

0.392

0.481

2014

28

158

99

8

59

5

0.272

0.375

0.375

2015

29

154

101

28

84

4

0.272

0.365

0.505

2016

30

129

81

21

68

0

0.271

0.380

0.505

He has always hit for a decent average and walked a lot, giving him excellent on-base percentages. In 2015, he took a significant step forward in terms of home run power, going long 28 times, more than doubling his previous best alongside a batting average and an on-base percentage that were practically carbon copies of his 2014 figures, showing that the power did not come at the expense of anything else. And despite his slight frame, he has been durable, playing 150+ games three times over the last five seasons and playing 125+ games in all but one of those five seasons.

The skinny Texan has played all over the place for the Cardinals depending on their needs. He has played 20 games or more at four different positions: 3B, 2B, 1B, and OF. Granted, he hasn’t played 20+ games in the OF since 2012, but nobody would be surprised if he spent some time in a corner OF spot if St. Louis ended up with too many infielders and too few outfielders in August. He has also spent long stretches batting in several different spots for the Redbirds, everywhere from leadoff to the middle of the order. That defensive and offensive versatility makes him a manager’s dream on the field and an owner’s dream in fantasy.

What Went Right in 2016

As the table above shows, Carpenter’s 2016 season was a carbon copy of his 2015 season in terms of rate stats. Long story short, that’s what went right for him. He batted leadoff more often than he did in recent seasons, but that change didn’t really impact his power or on-base performance in any noticeable way. He hit 20+ homers for the second straight year, although it seemed like pretty much everyone with second base eligibility went yard at least 20 times last year.

In addition to his usual solid performance, he played 40+ games at three different positions: 1B, 2B and 3B. That kind of positional flexibility is invaluable, helping roto owners slide players around when injuries or poor performances necessitate a change with Carpenter as the critical piece that fits all over the place.

What Went Wrong in 2016

The story of what went wrong for Carpenter in 2016 is a simple one. He suffered an oblique injury in July and spent nearly a month on the DL, limiting him to 129 games and putting a damper on his counting stats in the process. He had played 150+ games in each of the three previous seasons, so the missed time was out of the ordinary for him. He was 30 in 2016, though, so durability could be more of a concern going forward than it was in the past.

What to Expect in 2017

As of right now, the veteran infielder is expected to open the season as the regular starter at first base for St. Louis. Aledmys Diaz will be the starter at shortstop, Kolten Wong will get the first crack at the second base job and third base will be manned by Jhonny Peralta and Jedd Gyorko. If this configuration holds for the duration of the season it could limit Carpenter to first base eligibility in 2018, but that doesn’t really matter for the upcoming season. However, this configuration is unlikely to hold all season considering the various infields that the Cards have run out since 2012 as well as the fact that injuries are bound to strike at some point.

Aside from the fact that he’ll be 31 years old, there is little reason to expect anything different in 2017 than he delivered in 2015 and 2016. The move to first base, if it sticks, could save some wear and tear on his aging body, helping him stay off the DL and on the field. And keep context in mind: while Carpenter’s numbers have held steady over the last few years, the state of the position has changed as second basemen around the league posted better numbers in 2016 than they have historically.

The Great Beyond

2017 will be Carpenter’s age-31 season, so barring a miracle, his production and/or his health will start to drop off at some point over the next few years. Of course, there’s no way to tell whether that dropoff comes in 2017, 2021 or somewhere in between. With only one DL stint on his ledger over the last four seasons, he’s no more likely to miss time than anyone else and probably less likely to miss time than most players his age. Maintaining his performance might not be enough, though, if the bar for production at second base continues to rise.

The move to first base for 2017 could make him 1B-only in 2018 and beyond. That could hurt his positional value in a big way. However, it’s unlikely that the Cardinals will start the same infield for the bulk of the season since they haven’t been able to do that the last few years. Spending the bulk of his playing time at first base could benefit Carpenter in the long term since it’s the least physically demanding of the positions he has played regularly since 2014 by a wide margin. He’ll probably start sliding down the second base tiers sooner rather than later through a combination of his own age-related decline and the increasing strength of the player pool at the position. On the other hand, it’s hard to find anyone whose production has been as consistent over the last few seasons.