Matt Carpenter Has Solid Case For Being St. Louis Cardinals' First-Half MVP

By Thom Tsang

Move over, Yadier Molina, there’s a new sheriff in town.

Okay, so maybe it isn’t quite that way in the land of the St. Louis Cardinals. This is still undoubtedly the catcher’s team as far as clubhouse leadership and fan base recognition goes, but the emergence of fellow Matt Carpenter in 2013 shows that at the very least, there may be a no. 1 and 1A pairing emerging for the redbirds as far as on-field performance goes.

After all, just as the Cardinals can’t do without Yadi, they would also not be where they are without Carpenter either.

In fact, from a strictly performance-based perspective, you might even say that the 27-year old has a step up on the veteran backstop. At least, that’s what his team-leading 4.3 fWAR would suggest anyway. Carrying a .321/.394/.497 triple-slash into the second half, the infielder leads the team’s regulars in OPS (.891), OBP (.394), and falls just 20 points short of Molina in batting average at .321.

And for those who like counting numbers, he leads the team in runs with 72 as well (that’d put him on pace for, oh, just 128 — no big).

Not only is he a better contact hitter than Molina this season (90.6 percent vs. 87.3), but he’s also more disciplined (3.6 percent swinging strikes vs. 6.7) and draws more walks (9.6 percent vs. 6.3). Combined with the fact that he also hits the ball harder (26.6 percent line drive rate vs. 24.3), and you might have a pretty good case that only the baseball gods (.352 BABIP vs. 361) are the reason why Yadi has a better BA.

Hitting isn’t everything, of course, and much of Molina’s value obviously comes from the fact that at at 6.2 fielding runs above average, he’s once again one of the best defensive backstops in the game. His ability to frame pitches (something that isn’t quantified yet) is arguably second-to-none in the majors, and this is not even to mention the work he has done with his pitching staff, either.

Compared to Carpenter’s 2.3 fielding runs above average to date, that’s why Yadi is the clear MVP for the Cardinals so far, right?

Well, it’s not that simple. See, though Carpenter doesn’t being top-tier defense, he is ranked among the top 10 second baseman in that regard; plus, second base isn’t the only position he plays either. Having played both first and third (and even seven innings in the outfielder), the utility he brings to the Cardinals — especially as youngsters like Kolten Wong knock on the door — is arguably more important for the team going forward.

No, Carpenter isn’t quite what you’d call the heart and soul of the redbirds, and he obviously doesn’t have Molina’s track record to back him up. That said … MVPs are based on seasonal performance, and it’s at least worth considering, yes?

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