Carping on Carp

A-Gon.  Nick Johnson.  Branyan.  LaRoche.

Every other day someone is pushing the idea of some 1B import to come and pump up the offense for the Ms.  And in nearly every case, the idea that the Ms "might" have a LONG TERM 1B option nearly ready in AAA as we speak isn't mentioned.  I appear to be the only guy on the planet, (except perhaps Captain Jack), who believes that Carp is being SEVERELY under-rated by the masses.  So, I thought I'd explain why I believe this.

The obvious:  He's a high OBP 1B with some power, (which is exactly what Johnson and LaRoche are).  He's also effectively free of charge.  He turns 24 next June, so still 3 years away from peak. 

The subtle: 

In 2005, as a 19-year-old in A-ball, Carp posted a .249/.358/.476/.834 line with 19 HRs in only 89 games (313 ABs).  He *HAS* power.  But, he also had a 35/96 BB/K split.

In 2006, as a 20-year-old in A+ ball, he posted a .287/.379/.450/.829 line with 17 HRs in 137 games (491 ABs).  See the difference.  His average goes way up, but his HR rate drops.  His BB/K was 51/107.  Only 11 more Ks in 200 more PAs.  He *CHOOSE*, (or was instructed), to reduce his power, because a .250 average in A ball simply wasn't going to translate to the majors.

In 2007, he moved to AA, and struggled.  .251/.337/.386/.722.  He his only 11 HR in 98 games (363 ABs).  His BB/K was 39/75.  PRIOR to the 2007 season, he made the Mets top spec list (#8).  But, after a horrid '07, that label vanished.

In 2008, forced to repeat AA, and exploded.  .299/.403/.471/.874 with 17-HR in 478 ABs (97 games).  His BB/K went to a stunning 79/88!  The kid "got it".  He began maximizing his talents.

In 2009, he moves to Seattle, (Tacoma).  He posts a .271/.372/.446/.818 line in Tacoma with 15-HR in 413 ABs (110 games).  He also added a nice .315/.415/.463 line in 65 major league PAs.  His BB/K dropped to 58/99.  Still 100 points of patience and 180ish ISO.  Increased Ks forced his average down while everything else was basically static, (while taking on a new level).

My analysis.  This is a kid who is ADAPTIVE.  This means, he can change his approach at the plate until he maximizes his natural talents.   His major league cup-a-joe included an 8/10 BB/K split.  At the moment, he has not learned to leverage his power capacity.  BUT, his 19-HRs in 89 games at age 19 *CLEARLY* indicates he has some "inate" power.  Lopez had 13 HRs in 287 ABs at age 19.  Then it's been 10, 11, 17, 25 HRs from age 22-25 for Lopez.  BUT, Lopez is *NOT* naturally adaptive.

Seattle has been saddled with uncoachable quick-twitch types for some time.  So, mass perception is biased against the CONCEPT that players might IMPROVE after arrival.  But, a player like Carp is exactly the "type" of player that could post a couple of OBP-laden .800 OPS seasons, and THEN add the power and become a .900+ producer for another 5-7 years. 

Why is Z not madly dashing into the 1B FA pool?  I think it is because he sees the same thing in Carp that I do ... and he wants no part in spending many millions to get production only nominally beyond what he can already get for free.  Additionally, he doesn't want to bring on a multi-year contract that is going to slam the door on Carp's chances.  I suspect this is why he's pushing back on the multi-year demands from Branyan, (as he should).

Of course, Carp could fail.  He could become the next LaHair.  So, Z needs to balance his belief in Carp, (whatever that belief is), against the reality that there are no sure things.  And most of the fans want more pop than OBP.  TODAY, Carp appears to be a guy who'll hit 15-20 HRs, and that isn't enough for many fans.  But, I think, just like Lopez, his upside is considerably above his current level -- AND he's a lefty, so he doesn't have to fight against Safeco -- AND he's more adaptive, so whatever his ceiling is, he'll likely get there much quicker than Lopez. 



KingCorran's picture

Carp could be half of a 1B/DH combo, true.  But this appears to be an 'all-in' year for the M's, especially with Bradley displacing Saunders in LF.  This is why I wouldn't be surprised to see Carp shunted aside.


I like Carp.  I don't adore him, but I wanted him and when we got him in trade he was one of the best pieces for me (above F-Gut, actually).
His left/right splits were pretty close last year, though in previous years he's far more dangerous against Righties.
For me, that's the interesting thing - can he correct his LHP problem?
2005: .711 OPS vs LH, .879 OPS vs RH
2006: .681 OPS vs LH, .891 OPS vs RH
2007: .422 OPS vs LH, .826 OPS vs RH
2008: .781 OPS vs LH, .906 OPS vs RH
2009: .777 OPS vs LH, .848 OPS vs RH
He's stabilized the last coupla years against LHP significantly.  I still want to see him MASH vs. RHP.  I can deal with a split that's .750 against lefties and .950 to righties.  Even at less than that he's still valuable though.  Raul Ibanez for his career is .760 to lefties and .850 to righties.

As long as you can stay an average hitter against your own-handed pitcher, you can have a long career in this league.

Carp is showing he may be able to do that.  The idea that he might just be a platoon player is what made him more available in the first place.

I dunno that he's gonna ever mash, but I'd personally send him back for another lap around AAA to let him get comfortable trying to knock them outta his home park.  His BA at home wasn't good, but his HRs were all right.  His BABIP sucked down in Tacoma though.  I'd let him lap the field in AAA and see if he can put it all together.  Which is why one year of Branyan is fine for me - two, actually, because I figure Griff will be gone next year and Branyan can slot some bench ABs and DH time.
Still, adaptive and quick-learning?  Carp has 2250 minor league ABs over 6 years.  By no one's estimation is that a sign of quick learning.  Jose Lopez had 1800 and was in the bigs at 20, for good at 21.  Carp has a really gradual learning curve, IMO.  Once he owns something he owns it AT THAT LEVEL but not at the next one.  Which means to me that he's not likely to max out in the bigs for several years to come.
Carp isn't the 1B I'm really interested in down in the minors.  Raben is.  I comped Carp to Casey Kotchman early, and I stand by that.  Kotchman was a guy who was gonna get it any day now...any day...and that day where he was gonna explode has never really happened yet.  He's slid down from a very good debut, actually.
And Kotchman has 50 points of BA on Carp throughout his minor league career.  Carp looks like a .260/.340/.400 hitter in the bigs right now to me.  He's had 6 seasons in the minors and he hit (almost) .300 once.  Barely.  In his "explosion" year.  He's been a VERY consistent .100 OBP points above his BA, but I would expect that to drop a little in the bigs.  And the power is the variable.  If he grows into power, then the equation changes.  .260/.340/.460 is a nice line - and would only make him the 21st best 1B by OPS in the league. 
There's some ceiling to get to, but I can't peg him for .300/.400/.500 or something (which would STILL only make him a middle of the pack 1B at 13-15).  His batting eye is good, but his contact doesn't match the eye. so I can't see him as a consistent .300 hitter.  If he became a .900 OPS hitter for 5-7 years, I would be staggered.  I think he'll have a smooth slope up to his peak (whatever it is, and IMO that's determined almost entirely by his power - .260-.280 BA every year, .340-.370 OBP, and Power is... ???) and then a smooth decline thanks to that batting eye, but I just don't see the peak as being THAT steep. 
And so I view him as a stop-gap .750-.800 OPS 1B/DH who is cheap and can get on base.  There's value in that - but I'd still trade him in a hearbeat, as Anaheim did with Kotchman when Kendry Morales showed he had the power that Kotchman was lacking.
Thanks for layin' all this out there for us, though.  Consider this some attempt at rebuttal to your excellent piece, I guess. :)


BTW, the flash of power at 19 was something I wanted to look a little deeper into.
The five other guys that hit 19-21 HRs in the SAL that year (another dozen hit more):
Luke Montz - age at the time: 21.  position: catcher.  Career minor league line: .234/.327/.413/.740. 
ISO was .240 in 05,  about .190 in 06 and '07 in high-A, and ~.180 for his career.
Grant Psomas - age at the time: 22.  position: 3B.   Career minor league line: .258/.344/.451/.795. 
OPS that year? .954. ISO was .251 that year.
Justin Nelson - age at the time: 22.  position: OF.  Career minor league line: .268/.364/.498/.862. OPS that year? .900. 
ISO was .245 that year (first guy without huge differences)
Jose Valdez - age at the time: 21. position: 2B. Career minor league line: .267/.343/.428/.770.
OPS that year?  .846.  ISO was .190 that year. 
Travis Denker - age at the time: 19. position: 2B. Career minor league line: .269/.367/.486/.819.
OPS that year? .973 (!!).  ISO was .246. He's also the first real prospect (other than Carp.)
The SAL league is a decent hitter's league, IIRC, and was at the time. Hagerstown where Carp was a 1059 Park factor from 03-05 if I can read correctly.
I can't take his HR explosion in the SAL especially seriously with the vantage point we have now.  A lot of guys do it.  Not a lot as young as Carp, but it's not unheard of.  If Liddi's performance in the Cal League is due more than a little scrutiny due to league and park, Carp has some for the SAL league as well, especially since he's never built on that sort of power in the several years since.
Tons of guys were having career years in the SAL league at the time.  Maybe that's common.  But it's not the Midwest League, which I discount the other way ("hey, he had zero power, but it's the Midwest league.  We'll see what he does in AA...").

It just follows the trend of a lot of hitters who post career years there.  It doesn't mean he won't find that power, but 4 years on, I don't think it indicates a hidden reserve of power either.

misterjonez's picture

I tried to come up with comparisons for the guy, and the best I could do was somewhere between Carlos Pena and Lyle Overbay.  The minor league track records were close...and I remember thinking that the stat lines were pretty similar in a lot of ways with Prince Fielder?
Anyways, I'm with you on having faith in the kid.  I think he could be a mini-Olerude for the M's next winning team, and that's fine with me.  A .360-.380 OBP with 15+ HR is acceptable production for cheap, but long-term you'd like to have a legit masher at 1B.
Short-term, heck yes.  I like him and his player profile.  I drew the same conclusion you did when you say he's a player who can adapt and learn.  He's not just cruising along on massive amounts of physical talent, he's in there seriously studying himself and his mechanics in an attempt to take the next step.  I FAR prefer those types of players to the guys who just go up there relying on their reflexes.  They're much more stable, IMO.

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