Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Why can't Chris Carter hit at home?

In his first six starts of the season, Chris Carter went 3x19 (two doubles) with ten strikeouts and three walks. In his seventh start, Carter doubled his, uh, doubles by going 2x4 with two doubles and one strikeout. Is it a coincidence that the first six starts of the season were at Minute Maid and last night's game was the first on the road? The splits are startling, and I don't know how to explain them. Let's look at Chris Carter, away from Minute Maid Park, 2013-present day (morning of April 9):

.282/.362/.571, for a .933 OPS. .383 BABIP. .289 ISO.

Of course this is fantastic. It's the 8th-highest Away OPS in the Majors from Opening Day 2013 to today among players with more than 20 (yes, twenty) plate appearances, trailing Miguel Cabrera (1.061 OPS), David Ortiz (.994), Mike Trout (.981), Jayson Werth (.976), Joey Votto (.952), Chris Davis (.949), and Paul Goldschmidt (.945). Away from Minute Maid Park, Chris Carter is a beast.

Unfortunately, Carter has to play half of his games at Minute Maid Park, where it's a vastly different story. Remember how Carter has the 8th-best Away OPS in the Majors from 2013-today? Out of 361  players with at least 100 PAs at their home park, Chris Carter ranks 318th, with a .163/.277/.323 slash line for a .600 OPS. If we limit the scope to the American League, Carter's .600 OPS ranks 159th out of 179 players. 

(As a depressing aside, players ranked below Carter in Home OPS include J.D. Martinez and Trevor Crowe, both of whom are no longer with the club.)

We can even double-split this and see some striking disparities. His Road OPS vs. Righties is .980, where his Home OPS vs. Righties is .552. Road OPS vs. Lefties? .811  Home OPS vs. Lefties? .757. Okay, so the Lefty Home/Road splits aren't as pronounced, but I have no idea how you even begin to process this. He strikes out at roughly the same rate at home (37.5%) as on the road (35.0%), but his Home BABIP of .239 (326th out of 31 players) is FAR lower than his Road BABIP of .389.

Check out Carter's spray chart at FanGraphs and you can see that an overwhelming number of groundouts, line drives, and home runs are to left field.

Is Carter trying to hit the Crawford Boxes so hard and just missing? Are the home fans getting to Carter about his strikeouts? It would seem so. Check this quote from last August:

It’s tough on me. It’s stressful. You go up there and have a game like I had a few games ago when you strike out three or four times, and then the next game you strike out again, and it’s like six consecutive ones. Then you hear the home fans say stuff to you, and it’s kind of tough.

I do not know Chris Carter. From what I understand, he's a very nice guy with a very dry sense of humor. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that it's pretty easy to hear the fans at Minute Maid Park. There's not exactly a lot of crowd noise to drown out the fans who know Carter strikes out a lot. It's what my psychologist wife would call a self-fulfilling prophecy: Go up to the plate trying not to strike out, and guess what happens.

If the fans are the issue with Carter's home performance, then it would only make sense for Carter to kill the ball when he's away from Houston fans and the pressure that comes along with it. 

So I've basically written a post over lunch in which I threw a bunch of numbers indicating "WHOA THIS IS WEIRD." Now I'll open it up to you. Any thoughts as to why Chris Carter is an elite hitter on the road and hits like a pitcher at home?