Thursday, October 17, 2013

Exit Music (For A Player): Chris Carter

We're taking a look at the Astros who are still on the 40-Man Roster as part of our off-season Exit Music (For A Player) recap of 2013. Read the (small, for now) archive here. Today we take on Chris Carter.

Acquired: Via trade, with Oakland on February 4, 2013, with Brad Peacock and Max Stassi for Jed Lowrie and Fernando Rodriguez

148 games played, 585 PAs, .223/.320/.451, 112 OPS+
Baseball-Reference WAR: 0.5
FanGraphs WAR: 0.4
Walk Percentage: 12.0%
Strikeout Percentage: 36.2%
2013 Salary: $494,000

You already know where I'm going with this, don't you. So let's get the obvious out of the way first: Good God, the strikeouts. In the 6931 players who have played from 1962-2013, no qualified batter - nobody - struck out at a higher rate than Chris Carter. Here's the top 10:

Chris Carter (2013): 36.2%
Mark Reynolds (2010): 35.4%
Adam Dunn (2012): 34.2%
Mark Reynolds (2009): 33.7%
Dave Nicholson (1963): 33.7%
Mark Reynolds (2008): 33.3%
Jack Cust (2008): 32.9%
Rob Deer (1987): 32.9%
Rob Deer (1986): 32.8%
Rob Deer (1991): 32.5$

Yep. While Mark Reynolds has been more consistently whiffy than Carter, Carter is now the all-time leader. Yes, as in 1871-2013 all-time, leader in K% among qualified batters. But I want to take a closer look at Mark Reynolds' 2008 season, because his and Carter's 2013 seasons were remarkably similar. Regard:

Carter: .223/.320/.451. .337 wOBA. 29HR, .227 ISO
Reynolds: .239/.320/.458, .338 wOBA, 28HR, .219 ISO

What happened the next season for Reynolds? .260/.348/.543, .381 wOBA, .284 ISO. And more strikeouts.

High-Water Mark:
August 26. Carter goes 3x4 with 2HR, including one with two outs in the top of the 9th, to give the Astros a 10-8 lead over the White Sox, and finishes the day with 4RBI.

Honorable Mention: July 3. Carter hits 2HR to account for all the runs in a 4-1 win over the Rays.

What Went Well:
*Obviously, the slugging. With his 29 home runs, Carter became the first Astro since 2010 to hit 20+ homers, and the first to hit 29 homers since Lance Berkman did it in 2008. Think about that for a second: the Astros haven't had a 30+ HR season since 2007. Fifteen of Carter's homers were 400' or longer, and his average True Distance homer was 402' long. According to Hit Tracker Online (see link in previous sentence) 22 of his 29 homers were classified as No Doubt or Plenty.
*When not hitting at Minute Maid Park, Carter hit .279/.360/.565. Thirty-six of his 55 extra-base hits in 2013 came on the road, including 19 of his 29 home runs. His BABIP on the road was .383. This is unreal.
*Being aggressive, or at least ahead in the count. When swinging at the first pitch (40 times), Carter hit .436/.425/1.128. Eight of his 29 home runs were on the first pitch of the plate appearance. Or maybe you like his OPS on a 1-0 count: 1.360. 1-1 count? 1.165. 2-1 count? .920. 3-1 count? 1.170. In fact, when Carter was ahead in the count, he hit .240/.502/.597.

What Didn't:
*Well, the strikeouts. See above. Carter made contact on just 38% of pitches outside the strike zone, compared to a 66.6% average in MLB; 77.1% inside the strike zone (87.0% across MLB), and 65.4% of pitches overall (79.5% overall). While the average MLB batter swung and missed at 9.3% of all pitches, Carter's Swinging Strike rate was 15.5%. And it's not like this is a new issue. In 67 games for the A's in 2012, his K% was 31.9. At no level - minors or majors - was Carter's K% under 20.0% for any part of the season.
*Hitting at Minute Maid Park. It's unbelievable to look back at, but Carter hit .164/.277/.328 in Houston. What in the
*In 194 plate appearances with the pitcher ahead in the count, Chris Carter hit .137/.149/.211. He gets behind, he defeats himself.

2014 contract: 2nd, and final, year of pre-arbitration.
2014 outlook: Jeebus. Carter has shown he has pop, and can uncork a homer when he connects. Thing is, I just don't know if he can connect often enough. He'll be given every opportunity, given that he won't even be eligible for arbitration until after next season, and won't be a free agent until 2019. If he can figure out how to connect in the strike zone, then things are going to be great. Until then, however...