Asking what sort of hitter we expect Matt Carpenter to be would have been one of the easier things to ponder entering the Fantasy season just a year ago. We could have been certain that Carpenter was going to be among the most patient hitters in the majors, racking up a high on-base percentage with some doubles along the way. Expecting as many as 15 home runs would have been asking too much.
For the first month-and-a-half of 2015, Carpenter stuck to the script. He batted .322 with a .386 on-base percentage and 17 doubles, though he did also hit seven home runs. Then over the next two months, Carpenter sank into a miserable funk, batting .200 with seven doubles over a 58-game stretch.
It was the third phase of Carpenter's season that was most intriguing and makes him a hard hitter to peg heading into 2016. Taking the offseason advice of teammate Matt Holliday to heart, Carpenter eschewed his ultra-selective ways and starting swinging more often at pitches that weren't right down the middle. He even ventured outside of the strike zone more often, offering at pitches that would have been balls at a 25.5 percent rate in the second half, as opposed to his 20.7 percent rate in the first half and his previous career high of 22. 1 percent (per FanGraphs).
He became especially aggressive on offspeed pitches and it paid off with improved production. In the first half, Carpenter ranked 57th among all hitters on FanGraph's pitch value for changeups, but climbed to 21st in the second half.
With a more aggressive approach came more strikeouts and fewer walks, but also a lot more power. Carpenter yanked nine home runs in the first half, but 19 after the All-Star break. His new approach didn't hurt his doubles power, as Carpenter hit 23 in the second half, as compared to 21 in the first half. Among third basemen, only Josh Donaldson, Adrian Beltre and Nolan Arenado amassed more Rotisserie value than Carpenter in the second half. He also had the fifth-most Fantasy points at the position in the second half, but Carpenter has already established himself as valuable in points leagues.
This new version of Carpenter became more potent in Roto without sacrificing his points league appeal, but can we count on him to show up as the same hitter in 2016? Now that Carpenter has shown that he has power skills that we hadn't seen before, it's hard to see him reverting all the way back to being merely a doubles hitter, but it helps that he may have an incentive to stay the course. Not only was he prodded by Holliday to change his approach, but the Cardinals could use his power after finishing 25th in home runs and 24th in Isolated Power last season. The team has lacked power for awhile now, but Stephen Piscotty and Holliday provide them with viable leadoff alternatives.
In expecting Carpenter to be aggressive in 2016, that means taking a risk by targeting him as the fifth third baseman to come off the board in Roto leagues, just after Donaldson, Arenado, Manny Machado and Kris Bryant and ahead of Todd Frazier, Anthony Rendon and Beltre. That's no small gamble, but the potential for power and run production that Carpenter showed makes it worthwhile to go after him a little earlier than you would have this time last year.