Twitter GM’s across the land have been devising ways for John Mozeliak to improve this Cardinal team as the trade deadline approaches next month. Giancarlo Stanton and David Price have been the darlings of Cardinal fans in trade rumors thus far, but many have suggested the idea of moving Matt Carpenter back to 2nd base, and acquiring a big bat at the hot corner such as David Wright or Evan Longoria (both are having down years on non-contenders). Admittedly, I was a fan of this idea, under the impression that Carpenter’s bat provides significantly more value at the 2nd base position than at 3rd. Upon further review, this may not be the case.
Last year Carpenter was not only an elite 2nd baseman, but one of the elite players in the entire league. Posting a .873 OPS and breaking Stan Musial’s record for doubles by a Cardinal left hander. Carpenter finished fourth in the NL MVP race while hitting lead-off for the National League Champions. It is no secret in baseball that big things are expected offensively from the third base position, while this isn’t necessarily the case at second. Just ask the Cardinals who have made sure to fill third base with big bats such as Rolen, Glaus, and Freese while letting second base be occupied by the likes of Schumaker, Miles, and Theriot. Thus it seemed that moving Carpenter’s bat to 3rd would hurt the value of what ranked amongst the elite at 2nd.
However, when taking a closer look, the value of Matt Carpenter’s bat is practically even at both positions given an evolution of the game. That .873 OPS last year was the second highest among qualifying 2nd baseman, trailing only Robinson Cano. Shift Carpenter to 3rd and his OPS still ranks third at the position. In 2014, Carpenter has seen a significant drop in production, his OPS all the way down to .760. As for how it compares, Carpenter is currently tied for seventh in OPS at the 3rd base position, whereas he would be ninth if still playing 2nd base. Given this, it is hard to make any case for a difference in value from 2nd to 3rd.
The counterpoint that is sure to be made is power. Even though 2nd base has become more of an offensive position, 3rd base is still expected to be a “power bat.” Carpenter’s value is as a leadoff hitter, not as a home run hitter. The Cardinal lead-off man is 16th among qualifying 3rd baseman in slugging percentage this year with a .386, which would be tied for 11th among 2nd baseman. In 2013 his .481 slugging was second at 2nd base, and fourth at third. There is something to be said about Carpenter’s lack of pop decreasing his value as a 3rd baseman, but with a progression to his career .450 slugging, that wouldn’t be the case.
None of this even takes into consideration that Carpenter’s value as a defender is actually higher at 3rd base, given that it is his natural position. Based on almost any metric, Carpenter has ranked around the top five defensively at 3rd base in 2014. In contrast, Carpenter was very average at 2nd base in 2013, ranking 10th in DRS (defensive runs saved) and 15th in UZR (ultimate zone rating). For a team as poor as the Cardinals were defensively in 2013, this improvement is much needed.
There is a case for the Cardinals needing more power, and 3rd base is an easy target. In fact, I still don’t think acquiring a powerful 3rd baseman is a terrible idea. Kolten Wong is very young, and at some point going to be a hell of a player, but right now he would have the 2nd lowest OPS at 2nd base if he had enough AB’s to qualify. I’m not willing to give up an arm and a leg for to improve that position though, Carpenter is above average no matter what base he is manning.
It’s not crazy, it’s sports
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