In 2013, Chris Carter struck out more times in a full season than all but two players in the entire history of Major League Baseball. He finished the season with 212 strikeouts, or 14% of the Houston Astros 1535 Ks, which set a MLB record for most team strikeouts in a season.
That’s the bad. This is the good.
Carter led the Astros in Home Runs with 29, the 15th most across all of baseball. What’s impressive (I guess?) is that he only hit 10 of those HRs at Minute Maid, with the short Crawford Boxes in left field. He was also in the top 30 in walks drawn with 70, tying him with Evan Longoria for the season.
Now, none of those numbers are spectacular, but they are certainly enough to give Astros fans hope heading into the 2014 season. For even more hope regarding Carter, we don’t have to look any further than his three seasons with Oakland’s AAA affiliate, the Sacramento River Cats.
Before coming over in the Jed Lowrie trade, Carter spent five years in the Oakland system after he was traded to them by the White Sox, who drafted him out of High School. His rise to Oakland was highlighted by his 21 year old season in A+ ball where he hit 39 home runs, drove in 101 and drew 77 walks. In 2010, he was promoted to AAA, where he would bounce back and forth between the River Cats and the A’s.
Looking at Carter’s three seasons in AAA, you can see why Jeff Luhnow wanted him in the Lowrie trade. In his time at AAA, Carter hit .270 with 64 home runs over the course of 278 games. Meanwhile, every time he was called up to the A’s, it seemed like Carter would shut down and forget how to hit. In 106 games with the MLB team, Carter “hit” .214, while striking out 124 times.
So what is going on here? Clearly Carter has talent, but something simply isn’t clicking at the Major League level. Astros fans should be accustomed to that, looking no further than Brett Wallace for a guy who can’t seem to translate his ability to the big leagues.
I looked at every scrap of data I could find on Carter and came up with three things that he must do in order to have success in 2014 like he was having in the minors:
1) Chris Carter needs to hit left-handed pitching better.
In 2010, Carter batted .281 against southpaws. After that season, pitchers either figured him out or he lost his mojo because from 2011-2013 he has hit .215, .239 and .232. That’s a substantial drop in production from what should be an advantageous position for a hitter like Carter.
What’s happening is simple and you can see it for yourself thanks to Daren Willman and his amazing site, Baseballsavant.com. (Note: All data prior to 2013 is from a small sample of games Carter played in at the MLB level. I am working on the assumption that he was pitched to in a similar manner in the minors that same season. It’s an assumption. Go with it.)
Alright team, we’ve cracked the case! To fix Carter’s recent woes against lefties, all he has to do is ask them nicely to throw him more pitches inside, please.
Okay, that probably won’t work. But what he can do is recognize that he’s going to get a heavy dose of pitches away. He needs to learn to lay off the ones out of his range and sit on the few pitches he does get inside.
2) Chris Carter needs to be better on the first pitch.
Chris, if you’re reading this I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Before you stepped into the box, the catcher has already called for a pitch down and away to start your at-bat.
Seriously. If Carter just closed his eyes and swung at the right time, he would have a 48% chance of making contact if he chose to swing down and away. Actually, that’s about what he’s batting on an 0-0 count. For his career he has a .409 average (27/66) on the first pitch, including a ridiculous 12 home runs.
You would think that those numbers can’t be improved much, but Carter actually hasn’t done anything with those pitches he keeps getting low and away.
It seems to me that Carter is still sitting on pitches inside. When he gets something in on his hands, he is turning on them on hitting them out of the park. I would love to see Carter start to poke doubles down the right field line. Pitchers are setting him up, all he needs to do is poke his bat out there and jog to second.
This aggressiveness comes with a cost, obviously. Carter could swing and miss at pitches low and away, but let’s be honest, that’s been happening anyway. I would much rather see him take advantage of the constant stream of pitches outside and try to poke those down the line and turn on the ones inside when he can.
3) For the love of all that is holy, stop swinging at sliders!
Anyone who watched an Astros game last season needs no more hard data to know that Chris Carter can’t hit a slider, but gloom and doom is fun to see, so let’s go to the numbers.
If that’s not enough, here’s a stat that I assume every opposing pitcher salivates over: Chris Carter has seen 837 sliders in his career. He has 30 hits. That’s a hit percentage of 3.5%. I realize that includes sliders that he took for balls, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s obvious he cannot hit a slider.
Even when he does make contact, he is only hitting .167 (30/180). Even more telling, he has just two home runs in his career on sliders. Two!
Maybe he will suddenly learn how to hit a slider, but until then, let’s just all agree that Chris Carter should lay off any pitch that isn’t coming at him hard and straight.