Thursday, August 13, 2015

Oh no, not more words about Chris Carter

Ah, Chris Carter. One of the most polarizing Astros players. Some fans have wanted to team to eat all $4M of his 2015 contract from the day he signed it. Others wanted a statue built tolerated his presence because they believed he wasn't completely useless. I was in the second group to start the season. Fans that can look beyond batting average could point to his wRC+ and understood that, even with his glaring flaws, he was still an above average major league hitter. Every one agreed he could be extremely streaky, but not everyone agreed that the good balanced out the bad.

But that was before the 2015 season. We're now 2/3 of the way through the season, and good CC still hasn't shown up. And I don't think he will. Not this year. Maybe not ever again.

So I wondered what had changed so much. What took him from a flawed but generally productive hitter to a flawed and generally unproductive hitter? Surprisingly, it seems that by trying to fix Carter, he ended up even more broken.

You see, Carter has always been a pull-happy fastball hitter with very impressive power who was prone to swing and miss and had particular trouble with breaking balls. His first two seasons with Houston he pulled the ball about 50% of the time, 30% up the middle, and 20% oppo. His strikeout rates were 36% and 32%. According to PITCHf/x values he averaged about 6 runs above average on fastballs, but 5 runs below average on sliders.

Conventional wisdom said that Carter needed to learn to hit more up the middle and opposite field, work into more fastball counts, and lay off pitches he knows he can't hit. And he's done exactly that! He's been spraying the ball to all fields. He's pulling the ball just 38% of the time in 2015, 36% up the middle, and 26% to right. He's seen his percentage of fastballs go up almost 4%, while his slider and curveball percentages are both down 2% to 2.5%. And he's drastically cut down on his swings on pitches outside the zone, cutting it from 29% last season to 24% this season.

But now he's below average against the fastball, while surprisingly a bit above average on sliders. His percentage of soft contact is down slightly, but his hard contact rate is down considerably. He's hitting fewer infield popups, but his HR/FB rate is the lowest of his career.

All of this suggests to me that in an effort to make Chris Carter a more well rounded hitter, the one thing he was really good at has disappeared. Carter's entire value was tied to his ability to knock the snot out of the ball better than nearly every other player in baseball, overlooked though that value may be. Without that, there's no reason for him to have a place on the roster.