After signing with the Yankees in late May, Matt Carpenter quickly became one of the most surprising and impactful players in the lineup. He was putting up the best production of his career, until it was cut short by a broken foot in August. Despite the missed time and a rough return in the postseason, Carpenter had to be encouraged by his mini-renaissance in New York.
2022 Statistics: 47 games, 154 plate appearances, .305/.412/.727, 217 wRC+, 2.3 fWAR
2023 Contract Status: Free Agent
Put simply, Carpenter had a fantastic 2022 campaign. Over 154 plate appearances, he decided to become Barry Bonds. Although the Cardinals icon started the year with decent numbers in Triple-A with the Rangers, he decided to go elsewhere for a real opportunity to contribute. Elsewhere ended up being the Bronx, and Carpenter never looked back.
One of the Yankees’ more visible flaws this year was an occasional over-dependence on Aaron Judge. There were obviously guys who performed over the course of the season, but Carpenter provided another legitimate and much-needed threat at another spot in the lineup. The mustachioed vet blew essentially every one of his previous career-high rate stats out of the water.
With the caveat of it only being 47 games, the numbers are eye-popping. Among hitters with a minimum of 150 plate appearances, Carpenter’s 217 wRC+ was the best in all of baseball. This was also true of his slugging percentage (.727) and ISO (.422), and he was second in OBP (.412) behind only Judge. He swung more often than he typically has in his career (41.4 percent), but also maintained a lower chase rate than most of his recent down seasons. It was short-lived, but it was a truly special season for Carpenter nonetheless.
The nature of this resurgence makes it even more fun, and it was one of the most aesthetically pleasing aspects of it. Carpenter is a three-time All-Star and was an excellent player for the better part of a decade. His production began to fall off in 2019 however, and got progressively worse through the end of last year. But this past offseason, he remade his swing with his sights set on returning to form. He was evidently willing to start at the bottom somewhere, and it clearly worked better than anyone could have hoped.
Carpenter is someone who has reimagined his game before. A few years into his already-successful career with the Cardinals, he utilized his pull power and had some of the best offensive seasons as a result. So seeing him seemingly do it again might not be the most surprising thing, but it makes it all the more impressive — particularly given his multi-year decline. This sort of development is an admirable achievement for players, and serves as a useful analogy for pretty much anyone, in any realm.
The list of negatives for Carpenter is much shorter. The injury was a problem of course, but fouling a ball off his foot is hardly his fault. There was also his abysmal performance in the postseason. In 12 plate appearances, he mustered just a single, while striking out nine times. It’s a bit hard to hold that against him however, considering he hadn’t seen MLB pitching since the beginning of August. His inclusion on the postseason roster probably says a lot about both his abilities, as well as the state of the Yankees at the time.
Matt Carpenter produced like no one would’ve dreamt of in 2022. An unlucky broken foot cost him the last two months of the regular season, a time when the Yanks could have desperately used him, but he made a real impact nonetheless. He is a free agent going into this offseason, and likely won’t be too hotly pursued only because he’s turning 37 this month. But, someone will absolutely give him a shot, given his amazing 2022. It wouldn’t be surprising to see him back in New York, though perhaps he’d be tempted by a return to the Cardinals with the retiring Albert Pujols vacating the DH spot. Although expectations should be realistic, it also wouldn’t be surprising to see that Carpenter’s renaissance had some legitimacy to it as well.