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The data behind Matt Carpenter’s resurgence

The Yankee slugger’s batted profile looks better than it ever has.

MLB: New York Yankees at Boston Red Sox Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve heard plenty about Matt Carpenter’s story this season. The Yankees have long been interested in his services. When the opportunity came for them to pick up with a minor league deal, it was a no brainer for Brian Cashman, the scouting, and the analytics department. Carpenter has always been the type to underperform his expected statistics. To me, that means there has always been something about his profile and swing that were waiting to be unlocked, especially since his overall performance has fallen.

Much has been documented about Carpenter’s work on his swing change and all his friends and colleagues who helped him remake his swing back to its peak mechanical form. In fact, our own Peter Brody gave a thorough mechanical breakdown of Carp’s swing and how it looked different from the past few seasons. The main point about Carpenter’s swing was said nice and simply by Matt Holliday:

These tidbits are a simple way to say that Carpenter had become a pushy hitter with a limited bat path which took his away ability to hit pitches that he had typically barreled. Holliday’s anecdote is backed up by statistics. In 2020 and 2021, his wOBA on pitches in the heart of the zone had fallen to .129 and .249, respectively. Overall, he only slugged .322 against fastballs in 2021 and .407 in 2020. These are both small sample seasons, but the performance plus agreement by Carp himself that his swing needed patching are enough to say that he needed fixing.

As you know, 2022 has been a completely different story. Carpenter is a perfect fit for Dillon Lawson’s hitting philosophy of hitting strikes hard. In his insane 73 plate appearance outburst, he has ticked up the rate at which he swings at pitches in the heart of the plate, taking on Lawson’s philosophy. To say that has paid off would be an understatement. Overall, his wOBA on pitches in the heart of the plate currently sits at .650, and looking more granularly, he is crushing fastballs in the heart of the plate to the tune of a .745 xwOBCACON. That’s Matt “Barry Bonds” Carpenter to you.

Swinging more frequently leading to hitting the ball hard more frequently is the perfect recipe for success. It’s also clear to me that he has improved the consistency of his swing/barrel accuracy. To improve your barrel rate is one thing, but to decrease your Topped% and Flare/Burner% to career lows is incredibly impressive. This means Carp’s launch angle variance is steadier. That’s an extremely sticky skill that I love to see from any player. In terms of on the field outcomes, it means that he can get a barrel on the ball no matter the zone he is attacking. He has taken away holes in his swing that he had in 2020 and 2021.

Typically, when creating a game plan for a hitter, you try and find out what combination of pitch and zone you can attack to yield an out. That can be in the form of the swing and miss or a ground ball. When a hitter makes a swing change which gives them legitimate barrel ability in multiple zones, it makes a pitcher’s day that much harder. Similar to Peter, I keep thinking back to this at-bat against Shohei Ohtani. Carpenter took multiple different swings against a variety of pitch types. It took him 11 pitches to get to one he could barrel in play, showing that his swing is at a place where he can fight off almost anything a righty throws at him. Ohtani has several plus pitches and he flashed them all in that at-bat against the Yankees DH. It’s a perfect anecdote for how he has returned to his peak mechanical form.