Matt Carpenter came to the Yankees like a classic underdog protagonist. He was a former All-Star who had struggled in the last few years (three with an OPS below .800), but the Yankees gave him a chance to change the narrative and change the narrative he did. In 128 at-bats, Carpenter posted an OPS of 1.139 with 15 home runs and a .305 batting average.
The lefty hitter’s performance epitomizes the early success that this team had during the amazing first half. However, no story is complete without strife. When Carpenter fouled a ball of his foot and fractured the same foot, it put his season in jeopardy.
Carpenter has seemingly managed to work his way back from this injury, and he’s in excellent shape to play during the upcoming series against the Guardians. The veteran might be able to get his storybook ending after all is said and done. How should the Yankees best utilize him to maximize his impact on the game?
A good place to start is to look at how Carpenter fared against the different types of pitches during his time with the Yankees. One thing that sticks out immediately is the fact that he has well outperformed his batted-ball profile. Against the three main pitch types, his batting average exceeds his expected batting average by a fairly large margin. The same goes for his slugging and expected slugging percentage.
Furthermore, Carpenter’s expected batting average against breaking (.199) and offspeed (.224) pitches remains fairly poor. The expected slugging matches up to the poor expected batting average for both the breaking (.368) and offspeed (.359) pitches. This would seem to indicate that he has not hit the ball well against those types of offerings. While the quality of contact has not been great against these pitches, the outcomes have not followed suit.
Looking at the individual pitches and the run values that Carpenter has produced against them could provide some useful insight into how to best utilize the likely pinch-hit specialist.
This chart clearly indicates that Carpenter has not done well against the changeup. With an xBA of only .211 and an xSLG of just .267 against the changeup, it’s abundantly clear that Chapman should not be used against changeup specialists.
On the other hand, Carpenter’s ability to hit fastballs of most varieties remains very strong. In particular, he has absolutely smashed four-seam fastballs. With an expected batting average at .249 and an expected slugging percentage at .673, he has shown his ability to bash four seamers. To whit, he has a hard-hit percentage against this pitch at 55.3 percent. That's really good, and indicates that he can have success against four-seamers (like below).
Carpenter’s performance against other pitches does not really match up to his ability against fastballs, but he has managed some success against breaking pitches like curveballs and sliders. Like the rest of the 36-year-old veteran’s batting profile, he has managed to outstrip his expected batting average and slugging percentage. He can certainly hit these pitches, but not to the same degree as fastballs.
In addition to his ability to hit various types of pitches, the Yankees should consider how Carpenter’s swing fits in to the playing venue. He has a particular penchant for hitting balls to the pull side. This year, 57.9 percent of his batted balls have been hit to the pull side. This type of swing does not work in every ballpark.
This problem becomes particularly evident when considering how many home runs a player is expected to hit based upon the location of the batted ball and the venue where it is hit. This is not particularly surprising, but Carpenter’s lefty pull swing is perfect for Yankee Stadium. While he has only hit 15 home runs overall, if he had hit all of his batted balls in Yankee Stadium, he would expect to have 17 bombs.
Most ballparks are not quite as good for his swing as Yankee Stadium. For instance, hitting all of his batted balls in the Guardians’ ballpark would have resulted in 16 home runs, though this is a difference of just a single shot. This would indicate that his swing would be well suited for playing against the Guardians in both venues. It might not work as well if the Yankees eventually face the Astros in their home park (15 expected home runs), but that’s a lesser priority at the moment.
So where does this leave the Yankees in regards to Matt Carpenter? The answer is fairly simple: He offers a lot to like as bat off of the bench to swap in for someone like Isiah Kiner-Falefa or Jose Trevino, but not as a playoff starter. He has far outplayed his batted-ball profile, and it would be best for the Yankees to keep their expectations in check (particularly after a two-month layoff). With that being said, Carpenter has managed to absolutely crush four-seam fastballs, and his swing fits the two ALDS fields. As a consequence, he could capitalize against fastball pitchers in key situations late in ballgames. If the Yankees use him to his advantages, he could be an immeasurably valuable bench player.