The Mike Carp Family Of Hitters
I liked the way the previous post showed what you should expect from Jaso, so while I had the data sitting in a spreadsheet, I decided to apply the same analysis to another guy on the M’s roster – Mike Carp. Given his power spike at the end of last year, I know a lot of people want to see the M’s give Carp a full season to show what he can do, while I’m a bit more skeptical about whether he can sustain success using the approach he showed last year. This is where the “family of hitters” analysis is helpful, as we can see what history shows to expect from this skillset.
Same deal as with Jaso, though with Carp, the filters are obviously different. This time, I set contact rate to be between 70% and 75%, swing rate to be between 46.5% and 51.5%, and Isolated Slugging to be between .165 and .215 – essentially, taking 25 points on both sides of Carp’s average in those categories in 2011. The overall group produced a total line in these categories that is nearly an identical match (72.5% contact rate, 48.4% swing rate, and .192 ISO) to what Carp put up last year. This skillset is a little more common, so going back to 2002 like before, we’ve got 51 players accumulating 21,223 plate appearances in the seasons in which they showed similar skills to Carp. Here is the list.
The list of performances is pretty darn similar to Jaso’s comparables, and you’ll probably notice immediately that the wRC+ for this group is actually slightly worse than it was for Jaso’s group, though both collections could both be described as essentially average hitters. There’s a bit larger of a spread in results here, though once again, results are basically driven by a player’s BABIP – Matt Kemp’s crazy good 2007 was driven by a .411, while David Ross’ disastrous 2007 was thanks to a .225 BABIP, and obviously, neither of those marks were anything close to sustainable.
In terms of Carp, his 117 wRC+ from last year was the ninth highest posted by anyone in this “family”, and his .343 BABIP was the fifth highest anyone posted. Like with Jaso, this group suggests there’s significant regression coming if the same package of skills is maintained, but unfortunately with Carp, it’s regression in the other direction.
The conclusion here is hard to avoid. If Mike Carp takes the same approach at the plate in 2012 that he did in 2011, the results are going to be worse, and probably by a good amount. It’s one thing to have a league average hitting catcher (that’s a very good thing), but it’s entirely another to have a league average hitting 1B/DH with no defensive value. If Carp regresses back to the normal production level for a hitter with his 2011 contact rate, swing rate, and power levels, he’ll essentially be a replacement level player.
Of course, Carp has shown better contact rates in prior years, and there are some guys on the list – Matt Kemp, Jay Bruce, Miguel Cabrera, and Carlos Pena aren’t bad names to be associated with, after all – who offer some hope that this kind of skillset can be improved upon. The problem is that most of those guys were a lot younger than Carp was when they showed these skills in the big leagues, and so improvement with experience and natural growth was to be expected. At 25-years-old, Carp is getting close to the point where he should be in his physical prime, so there probably isn’t a ton of room for development left.
If there’s one guy who you could point to as perhaps the blueprint for what you’d hope for from Carp, it’s probably Pena, who didn’t really break out as a big leaguer until he was 29. Of course, a significant part of his improvement can be directly tied to his decision to drastically cut down on how often he swung the bat, as he set a career low 43.1% mark in his swing rate during his monster 2007 season. If Carp is going to follow the Pena path to being a productive slugger while striking out a lot, he’s simply going to have to stop chasing so many pitches out of the strike zone, get himself in better hitter’s counts, and be willing to take more walks.
More likely, though, he pretty much is what he is, and his future looks a lot like Eric Hinske’s career. It’s possible that Carp adds a bit more patience to his game and is able to maintain the power he showed last year, which would make him a useful player. He’ll never be any kind of star with his contact problems, and we probably shouldn’t expect Carp to be more than an average-ish hitter going forward, but there are some reasons to give him additional playing time in 2012. I just don’t agree that he’s shown enough to be handed the full-time starting DH job, however, and I wouldn’t suggest that the organization go into next season with Carp in a starting role and no legitimate alternative in the organization.
As a part-time player or a guy who doesn’t have to be counted on, he’s a decent piece to have around. Given how these types of hitters have generally performed, however, the Mariners better not count on getting a repeat performance from Carp, because odds are pretty good that the 2012 version won’t be as good as the 2011 version.