It may seem strange to ask after a game where as the lead-off hitter he reached base safely six consecutive times, but after watching the combination of Peter Bourjos and Matt Carpenter execute in the 11th inning of Wednesday’s 5-2 victory for the St. Louis Cardinals, it does raise the question—why don’t we see Carpenter bat second?
The quick and easy answer is on-base percentage. Bourjos entered Wednesday with a .276 OBP. Kolten Wong owned a .320 OBP. Matt Carpenter was at .381.
To be clear—this is no disrespect to Carpenter. He has a sharp batting eye, works pitchers deep into counts, is regularly on-base, and hits a ton of doubles. All are tremendous attributes for a lead-off hitter. But they also have value in the two-spot, especially with his comfort to hit with two strikes.
And both General Manager John Mozeliak and Manager Mike Matheny were clear as far back as the Winter Warm-Up that even with the speed additions of Bourjos and Wong, they liked what Carpenter brought to the lead-off position.
But Wednesday’s situation was an example of how moving Carpenter to the two-hole could be a move to improve the success of all three players and more.
Having the potential of stolen base threat on base in front of Carpenter, should raise the stress level for the opposing pitcher as he will need to offer more quality pitches to avoid having two men on for the middle of the lineup.
Think of it as such–which scenario is more threatening for a pitcher, (1) a runner on first who is prone to steal with Carpenter at the plate or (2) Carpenter on first with six career stolen bases and a speedy runner at the plate? Which scenario most affects pitch selection and delivery?
And having to take a couple pitches to aid in the stolen base doesn’t necessarily hurt the batting average either. As mentioned, Carpenter is comfortable batting with two strikes.
In the mid 1970’s when Lou Brock was leading off and stealing bases at record pace, Ted Sizemore was most often batting second behind him. A career .262 hitter/.325 on-base percentage, Sizemore hit .302/.351 with a man on first. And his OBP rose to .354 with a runner on second.
Worst case scenario, if the lead-off hitter failed to get on and Carpenter continued to reach base in normal fashion, he would still be on with one out.
Baseball is a game that allows for many ways to achieve the same results. And certainly last year the Cardinals scored a number of runs and recorded a lot of victories on their way to the World Series with Carpenter as the lead-off hitter. But with new personnel in Bourjos and Wong now available, and an offense that has yet to find a consistent stride in scoring—it does make you wonder, doesn’t it?
photo credit: Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports