There are two players on the Yankees who had over a 200 wRC+ in 2022. The first is the MVP, Aaron Judge. If you didn’t remember, he hit 62 home runs last year. The other player didn’t hit as many, but may have put on the greatest show we’ve witnessed from a one-year stint in a Yankees uniform. Matt Carpenter had a 217 wRC+ in 154 plate appearances while slugging 15 home runs.
As I watched him this year I thought to myself, man, it would have been great watching Carp in his prime. I never realized how talented he was. There is one specific quality that will make me fall in love with any hitter: those who demonstrate an incredible understanding of matching their plate approach with their swing strengths.
Having a good feel for the strike zone is one thing, but consistently attacking pitches in your ideal bat path is the next level. That is Carpenter’s premium skill. His confidence in an at-bat almost makes him look lackadaisical. He has such a thorough understanding of who he is at the plate that he sometimes looks bored when he takes pitches.
It’s funny and entertaining to watch. The first at-bat that came to my mind that is a perfect representation was a four-pitch sequence against Noah Syndergaard from late May. It’s not like it was a long, fought out at bat. It really was just as simple as Carp taking the right pitches and swinging at the right pitches. It excited me though, because I saw a hitter who looked so comfortable and confident at the plate. Now, let me show you what I’m talking about.
Well, this was a weird start to an at-bat. Miguel Andújar of all people got a massive jump on a stolen base, though it makes sense when you break it down a little further. Syndergaard takes as long to throw the ball home as any pitcher in the history of the game and Max Stassi has a noodle for an arm. You don’t even need average speed to take a bag from them, and Carpenter was well aware of it when he let this very hittable fastball go on by for a strike. With two outs, he now had a chance to knock a runner in with a single.
Oh. That pitch was a strike. It moved across the strike zone and Statcast said it ended in it too. But that’s the beauty of pitch framing. Stassi didn’t present this pitch all that well. He popped up, but then dropped his leg awkwardly. That plus Carpenter’s confidence led to a ball call. Carp seemed to be on both of these pitches. He had a leg up heading into the 1-1 count.
That’s a cookie! Syndergaard was asking to give up a home run here, but Carpenter pulled the trigger a little too quickly. After the first two takes and this swing, I still thought he was in the driver’s seat. Syndergaard’s fastball was moving right across Carpenter’s wheelhouse. All it would take was a slight adjustment for the Yankees designated hitter to keep the pitch fair and elevate it.
Boom. It was a predictable at-bat from the start. Syndergaard was pounding pitches in Carpenter’s hot zone over and over again. This probably wasn’t intentional! After that, he hung a flat slider on a platter. See what I mean about the at-bat and swing looking so easy? Carpenter didn’t press for one second. He got two hittable pitches around the edges but didn’t feel the need to swing at them. Instead, he waited for pitches in the middle of the plate and made it hurt. Solid approach that led to a long, long inning for Syndergaard. Enjoy this, San Diego. Watching Carpenter hit is an absolute pleasure.