CINCINNATI -- Hours before he ended his extra-base-hit drought with a 420-foot home run, Matt Carpenter recognized the potential for observers to assume causation if his move back into the leadoff spot ignited his bat."I don't want this to become the narrative," Carpenter insisted.Yet, it's been an easy one to
CINCINNATI -- Hours before he ended his extra-base-hit drought with a 420-foot home run, Matt Carpenter recognized the potential for observers to assume causation if his move back into the leadoff spot ignited his bat.
"I don't want this to become the narrative," Carpenter insisted.
Yet, it's been an easy one to lean on given the contrast in results Carpenter has had when batting leadoff compared to anywhere else. He was back in the top spot in Wednesday's 6-4 loss to the Reds because William Fowler was on the bench. Manager Mike Matheny did not indicate plans to make the move more permanent, nor does Carpenter believe it has to be for him to get right.
"Struggles are struggles," Carpenter said. "I had a stretch where I was hitting really well in the three-hole, but I hit a funk. [I'm] trying to find my way."
Carpenter, who has been trying to fix mechanical flaws within his swing, received some positive reinforcement on Wednesday when he crushed a Bronson Arroyo fastball over the wall in center. It was one of two times he reached base in the game and snapped a skid of 57 consecutive at-bats without an extra-base hit. It had been a jarring drought for a player whose .877 OPS from 2015-16 ranked 10th best in the National League.
Dropped in the order to accommodate Fowler's arrival this season, Carpenter entered Wednesday hitting .209 with a .396 slugging percentage. He had one multi-hit game in his last 26 starts.
"I just feel like my swing right now, there is definitely something that is slightly off," Carpenter said. "They say football is a game of inches. Baseball, the swing is a game of inches as well. I'm not a big launch-angle guy, but if your launch angle is a degree off, there is something different going on."
That launch angle, according to Statcast™, is much more than a degree off. Carpenter posted an average launch angle of 17.2 degrees in 2015 and 17.1 degrees in 2016. This year, it sits at 21.9 degrees. His jump from last season to this one is the eighth largest in baseball.
Carpenter has hit more popups already this season (12) than in either of his last two (11). His line-drive percentage has dropped from 30.4 percent to 26.7 percent. And his percentage of batted balls with a launch angle of 40 degrees or higher sits at 22.2, almost double the last two years.
Knowing the problem has directed Carpenter toward a potential solution.
"The swing just started to feel a little underneath, and behind, and you get sped up trying to adjust, and that causes another issue," Carpenter said. "The next thing you know, your mechanics are off just a hair. Then you combine all that with the fact we went through the toughest part of our schedule facing the best pitchers, if you're off just a hair in this game you're going to get exposed, and that is kind of what happened."
Neither Carpenter, nor Matheny, believe this has anything to do with the first baseman's spot in the batting order, even though his career numbers hitting second (.249/.340/.380) and third (.226/.361/.405) have not measured up with his success as a leadoff hitter (.295/.387/.485).
"I've had some very seasoned players say, 'There's something about that particular spot that doesn't feel right,'" Matheny said. "That's human. I haven't had any of that from Carp. He hasn't said, 'I don't feel right [hitting] third. I don't feel right hitting second.' I haven't had a peep of that."
Jenifer Langosch has covered the Cardinals for MLB.com since 2012, and previously covered the Pirates from 2007-11. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB, like her Facebook page Jenifer Langosch for Cardinals.com and listen to her podcast.