The Yankees are winning, the offense is the best in baseball, the pitching is the best in baseball, and there are a lot of reasons for it. From Judge’s MVP season to Gleyber’s power resurgence on the offensive side to Cortes breaking out and Clay Holmes being the best reliever in baseball, the Yankees are rolling. There have been plenty of unsung heroes on the way. It takes selflessness to not be a starter on a great team, as you sacrifice the opportunity to have more playing time and ultimately an increased chance to make money just to win. On this roster, there’s no greater example of this than Matt Carpenter.
After a marvelous career in St. Louis, he was let go in free agency after a stretch from 2019-2021, where he slashed just .203/.325/346 with 22 HRs in 309 games. That’s good for an abysmal 83 OPS+ and just a 1.9 fWAR. In New York? He’s almost matched his HR total in the 180 games he played between 2020 and 2021. The power from the left-handed side with great plate discipline has proven to be extremely valuable, but it’s evident he should play way more.
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Pinch-Hit Matt Carpenter More
While the Yankees have hit well, there are holes in their lineup. Isiah Kiner-Falefa and Kyle Higashioka have OPS+ numbers at 84 and 45 apiece, not good. Against RHP, it’s hard to imagine late in games you want either getting a big at-bat. This is where Matt Carpenter can be the primary pinch-hitter; and he’d excel. He has a 103 wRC+ pinch-hitting, a number weighed down by an abysmal 2021. Ultimately, Carpenter provides a low chase rate and high pulled flyball rate. I wonder if he’d struggle on the road, but 4 of Carpenter’s 6 HRs have been no-doubters. He isn’t a short porch product, more so a product of pulling flyballs.
Putting a veteran hitter with a great eye and great power in big spots is a process that will warrant clutch hits.
The Yankees have actually been middle of the pack with RISP and High Leverage situations, ranking and 11th in wRC+ with RISP 15th in wRC+ in High Leverage situations. To have better hitters up late in games in these situations could take a team that’s already 44-16 and make them even better. With more pinch-hit opportunities, you still only get him roughly an at-bat per game, but how can he get more starts with how clogged the DH spot can be?
Fitting In Defensively
While he is definitely not an elite defender, he did have 7 OAA at 3B between 2019 and 2021 when he declined offensively. At 1B, he has mixed results based on whether you look at DRS, UZR, or OAA, but he could hold his own. He could play 2B as well, but he was a disaster there, so I imagine he won’t play there. Carpenter, to me, is a 1B/3B, which hurts his playing opportunities because the Yankees already have a crunch trying to get DJ, Rizzo, Gleyber, and Donaldson consistent reps. Matt Carpenter is going to need to get those reps in between off days for other players and hope he can stay hot there, but if his pinch-hit usage goes up, I would think he can stay hot with the bat.
The comparison I’d make for Carp is with 2012 Raul Ibanez, who posted a 102 wRC+ and 1.63 Win Probability Added in 130 games, with a lot of his usage being as a pinch hitter. If the Yankees can get Carpenter to occasionally play 3B or 1B, I imagine that he’ll have the opportunity to avoid long layoffs from the starting lineup even when fully healthy.
How Does Matt Carpenter Project This Season?
Steamer has Carpenter posting a 104 wRC+ for the rest of the season, while ZiPS has him at a 114 wRC+.
For context, wRC+ is a metric that takes total offense (OBP/SLG), weighs it to adjust for the importance of getting on base and the importance of getting total bases, and then puts that offense on an index. 100 is average, anything above or below is the percentage it is below/above the average. For example, a 95 wRC+ is 5% worse than the average hitter, and a 105 is 5% better. This means that Steamer believes Carpenter will be 4% better than the average hitter for the rest of the season, and ZiPS thinks Carpenter will be 14% better than the average hitter for the rest of the season. Steamer is the most conservative projection of Carpenter, but even they think he remains a productive bat.
The Yankees have a sustainable bat in Carpenter that should remain a good hitter for the rest of the season, and having a veteran lefty is so important to the bench. The Yankees are rolling, and Matt Carpenter has been an unsung hero who should (and probably will) be featured more in the lineup and in the pinch-hitting regard as well.