Babe Ruth. Barry Bonds. Matt Carpenter. These players have more in common than you think.
Okay, okay — jokes aside, Carpenter is on one of the best stretches you’ll ever see from a baseball player. I started off with a hyperbole, but that last statement is not an example of one. The three-time All-Star who was relegated to Triple-A anonymity early in 2022 simply keeps hitting. After his first 97 plate appearances in pinstripes, Carpenter sits at a 278 wRC+ with 13 home runs. He’s already accumulated 2.2 fWAR in a short span while only playing defense occasionally.
Carpenter was the offensive catalyst in two big Yankees wins over the Red Sox this past weekend. His Saturday night game was highlighted by two huge three-run home runs. One of those was par for the course coming against Nick Pivetta, but the other came in what you would expect to be an unfavorable matchup against the lefty three-quarter arm slot thrower, Darwinzon Hernandez. The southpaw struck out 33.8 percent of the lefties he faced in 2021.
Similarly, Carpenter strikes out a third of the time against lefties. He often gives them tough at-bats, but this was still an iffy matchup.
From that low arm slot, this pitch first appears as if it is going to hit your hip, not end up on low and corner for a dotted called strike. This was a phenomenal start to the at-bat for Hernandez with runners on base in a sticky situation. He established control of the at-bat and immediately put pressure on Carp to come from behind. This is your best possible start as a reliever trying to keep your team within striking distance. The count was 0-1.
Right back to the fastball after dotting on the first pitch. The location is a miss according to the setup, but based on Carpenter’s first take, he was a little uncomfortable. I would’ve made the same call to attack the slugger with a fastball and get ahead with an 0-2 count.
Carp was most definitely in swing mode, but if you read the swing correctly, then you know that he is still a bit late in getting his barrel into the hitting zone. However, if you have learned anything from this series, you know that the best hitters make those pitch-to-pitch adjustments which put them ahead of the pitcher. In this 0-2 count, Hernandez has good enough reason to go back to the fastball while Carpenter is still behind, but he must be careful.
Hernandez dialed it up on this pitch for a 95 mph fastball, but he missed again right over the plate. He was lucky that Carpenter didn’t drill this pitch 400 feet. At this velocity, that is not a good pitch while ahead in the count 0-2.
In fact, a miss like this under this specific context is almost a worst-case scenario in this at-bat. Hernandez has now thrown three-straight fastballs and the latter two were misses over the middle of the plate. We know that Carpenter is processing all this information on the fly, but it would be shocking if Hernandez went back to the fastball, especially considering that there are runners on base and a strikeout would be most ideal.
Run back the 0-2 count:
Yeah, this is bad pitching. I’m not necessarily a big fan of wasting pitches, but this is a great time to throw something out of the zone and try to get a chase. Given where catcher Christian Vázquez ultimately set up, maybe this was the plan and Hernandez was trying to do this, but he failed miserably.
A theme of this series seems to be that pitchers far too often double or triple up on pitches against great hitters and end up putting themselves in a hole. As a primarily two-pitch reliever, it would be smart to mix pitches an entire at-bat, but hey, easier said than done. Sometimes you just get beat, and if you make a mistake like this pitch, that loss can be substantial.