St. Louis Cardinals: Matt Carpenter to Shift to First Base Full Time in 2017

Sep 28, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter (13) makes a play against the Cincinnati Reds at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 28, 2016; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals third baseman Matt Carpenter (13) makes a play against the Cincinnati Reds at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports /

After he started at three different spots for extended periods in 2016, the St. Louis Cardinals will shift Matt Carpenter to first base full time next year.

After a season in which virtually every player in the St. Louis Cardinals’ lineup seemed to be a moving piece, GM John Mozeliak expressed a clear desire at the end of the season to decrease the movement between positions in 2017. One of the players who moved around most was infielder Matt Carpenter, who played 54 games at third base, 40 at second, and 45 at first in 2016, and the Cardinals want to give him a consistent position next season.

That position apparently will be first base, where he spent the latter part of the 2016 season. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch‘s Derrick Goold first reported the news on Tuesday.

While he received just three starts at first base before the All-Star break, Carpenter became the Cardinals’ primary first baseman in early August and remained there for the rest of the season, starting 32 games at first over the remainder of the year. It appears that he may have real potential to be a defensive difference-maker at first, as FanGraphs gave him a -1.7 defensive rating, best among MLB first baseman who played at least 300 innings at the position (with that said, that metric is admittedly flawed for evaluating first basemen).

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Matt Adams received the majority of the starts at first for the Cardinals in 2016, and he didn’t exactly disappoint, hitting .249/.309/.471 with 16 homers in 327 plate appearances. In limited opportunities against lefthanded pitchers, he hit for an .822 OPS, reducing the doubt that he’d ever hit lefties effectively. But Adams struggled mightily at the plate from June to August and dealt with an injury that forced him to spend time on the DL for a fourth straight season. Brandon Moss and Matt Holliday also saw semi-regular time at the position, but neither is expected to return in 2017.

At this point, Adams has definitely established himself as a major-league player, but he’s pretty clearly better off as a role player and an imposing pinch hitter. He has a .330/.352/.600 slash line with seven homers and 28 RBI for his career as a pinch hitter, and he’ll be valuable in that role even if he’s not starting every day.

Matt Carpenter St. Louis Cardinals
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /

Considering baseball’s increasing emphasis on defense in recent years, it’s a bit of an outdated argument to say that Carpenter becomes less valuable by shifting across the infield full-time, especially when the Cardinals have fearsome power threats such as Gyorko, Aledmys Diaz, Stephen Piscotty, and Randal Grichuk elsewhere throughout the lineup. While it will always be a position where some of the league’s most powerful hitters play, it’s become a less powerful position on average in recent years.

Carpenter’s .885 OPS would have placed him sixth among baseball’s qualifying first basemen in 2016, though his 21 homers would have been roughly average–tied for 17th–around the league at the position.

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It appears that the Cardinals will shift Grichuk to left field next season and acquire a new center fielder, so as long as that player can at least somewhat offset the power production that Matt Holliday and Brandon Moss provided in left this past season, the offense should remain very powerful as Carpenter shifts to first on a full-time basis.