Chris Carter is off to a rough start in the Bronx. The former Brewer signed a one-year, $3.5 million deal late in the offseason to provide right-handed power at first base and designed hitter. Carter, who tied for the National League lead with 41 home runs last season, is hitting just .211 with only 1 home run and 13 strikeouts in the early going of 2017. While his performance has certainly disappointed, what is perhaps more unfortunate is that he’s already become the Yankees’ designated scapegoat.
From what I can tell, Carter is far and away the least popular Yankees player this season. He is almost universally reviled on social media. Many fans seem to think Carter somehow conned his way into 41 home runs, as if he’s some kind of fraud. Just search ‘Chris Carter’ on Twitter. The results speak for themselves.
It’s been rather shocking just how quickly and aggressively the Yankees’ faithful have turned on Carter. Sure, he hasn’t produced thus far, but as of Tuesday he’s only logged 41 innings in pinstripes. That’s an extremely small sample! For comparison, he had 644 plate appearances last season.
Much of the criticism revolves around Carter’s strikeouts. While his 31.7% strikeout rate is high, it would actually be a career low for him over a full season. Since establishing himself as a regular in 2012, Carter has succeeded at the plate on the back of an extreme three-true-outcomes approach. Every year he strikes out about one third of the time, walks about 12% of the time, and records an ISO around .250. That adds up to an above-average hitter.
This year, the walks and power are down, but there’s reason to believe Carter will rebound. His past success indicates as much. The Carter hatred is emblematic of a larger phenomenon, sports fans’ constant need to hate someone on their own team.
As passionate sports fans, we love rooting for our favorite teams and have a strong affection for our certain players. We also often have an equally strong disdain for players we feel are getting in the way of our team’s success. When things aren’t going well, fans need to find someone on which to pin the blame. It’s not always as simple as just blaming the worst player, as baseball fans frequently end up blaming the team’s best player for team underperformance.
The unfortunate thing for Carter is that he joined a Yankees team uncharacteristically bereft of dislikable characters. Alex Rodriguez was certainly polarizing, but he’s gone now, as is former scapegoat Stephen Drew. The early favorite for 2017 scapegoat would have been Jacoby Ellsbury, but his strong start has him back on Yankee fans’ good side. No living being has ever disliked Aaron Judge.
In my opinion by far the most dislikable player on the Yankees, given his past, is closer Aroldis Chapman. However, Chapman is extremely good at baseball and given his role, it is difficult to make him a scapegoat as he continues to convert saves. The only Yankee performing worse than Carter so far is his platoon-parter Greg Bird, but Bird is an extremely likable homegrown player who many believe has a bright future in pinstripes.
Unfortunate as it may be, that leaves Carter, an underperforming veteran import, as the most logical target for the ire of Yankee fans. For his sake and the Yankees’ I truly hope Carter reverts to his career norms and starts mashing some dingers. Yet even if he slugs his way into the good graces of the Yankees’ faithful, there will always be a new scapegoat to take his place and absorb the blame.