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Carpenter turns to analytics to fix baserunning

MLB.com @LangoschMLB

ST. LOUIS -- As he settled in for a winter back home in Texas, Matt Carpenter started with his annual exercise of evaluating the season that had just ended. And when it came to his own individual performance, two things struck him as inadequate.

One was his defense, which was too inconsistent for Carpenter's liking. The other, his baserunning.

ST. LOUIS -- As he settled in for a winter back home in Texas, Matt Carpenter started with his annual exercise of evaluating the season that had just ended. And when it came to his own individual performance, two things struck him as inadequate.

One was his defense, which was too inconsistent for Carpenter's liking. The other, his baserunning.

"I feel like I can do a better job of that," Carpenter said of the latter. "And that has nothing to do with speed. It's just making better decisions."

Indeed, Carpenter made a series of curious decisions on the bases in 2017. He was bitten by his own aggressiveness several times, which led to Carpenter being thrown out on the bases a team-most nine times, including five instances at home. That, too, led the club.

And there were other times when Carpenter wasn't opportunistic enough. According to Baseball Reference, he finished with an extra-bases-taken percentage of 29, the lowest of his career. For context, league average last season was 40 percent.

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"That comes back to opportunity and being aware of the situation," said Carpenter, who is entering his age-32 season. "For a guy like me to go first-to-third, you have to find the right ball and the right play to make sure you can get it, because it doesn't do me any good to go first-to-third and get thrown out. That's one thing I have to be aware of."

Carpenter took his evaluation one step further this offseason and requested a packet of information from the Cardinals' analytics department. His objective? To gather data about players who have similar speed to him but grade out as plus baserunners. Carpenter then studied their methods and technique.

"You look at where I am, my age, and who you are from an athletic standpoint is who you are," Carpenter said. "I'm just trying to figure out what they're doing and how they do it [and] then incorporating that into my game."

One of the examples given to him was Arizona's Paul Goldschmidt. Another was his own teammate, Yadier Molina.

"If he was here, he would say that he was faster than me, but I promise you he's not faster than me," Carpenter said. "Yadier Molina grades out really well as a baserunner because he doesn't make mistakes and he finds a way to get the extra base when it's presented to him. Opportunistic is a great word to describe him. Getting closer to that for me would be ideal."

The Cardinals, as a club, have room for improvement in this area, as well. In recent Spring Trainings, manager Mike Matheny has pushed his players to be aggressive on the bases, hoping that mentality would translate into success in the regular season. It hasn't.

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In 2017, the Cardinals ran into 64 outs on the bases. Only the Phillies (65) finished with more in the National League. Twenty-one of those outs were at home, the fifth-highest total in the Majors.

While personnel and directive contributed to the issues, the Cardinals also had a missing piece who, in Carpenter's assessment, was critical. That would be Jose Oquendo, the team's longtime third-base coach who has been absent the last two seasons. Oquendo is returning to the big league staff this season.

"I think that having Oquendo back -- and that's not saying anything [bad] against the guys who coached there -- he's going to help us as a group run the bases better," Carpenter said. "I'm excited about that."

Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.

St. Louis Cardinals, Matt Carpenter