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September 21, 2011 at 10:31 AM

Mike Carp certainly inserting himself into the 2012 discussion for Mariners

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Mike Carp tied a Mariners rookie record with five hits last night, upping his season totals to a .291 average, 11 homers and an on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) of .839.
Carp is inserting himself into the discussion as one of the potential regulars the team can count on next season, along with second baseman Dustin Ackley and pitcher Michael Pineda.
But where to put Carp? And does he represent the type of option a championship team is looking for? We won’t have those complete answers for a while, but the M’s do have some decisions to make ahead of that.
Namely: is Carp trade fodder for this coming winter?
The thing the Mariners have to decide is where Carp fits into the overall scheme. Going into the season, it’s safe to say he didn’t fit.
Since then, he’s surprised many folks, including his manager. His dedication to lowering his body fat and developing a sleeker physique has improved his defense. We saw it last night on that bang-bang play in the ninth on the grounder hit his way.
Carp made the play at the plate and that truly changed the complexion of a ninth inning that began with the bases loaded and none out. There were many ways that play could have gone wrong, with Carp potentially bobbling the quick hopper, or rushing what should have been a routine throw. But he made the play under duress (the game situation riding on it) and sometimes, those more routine plays are more indicative of a quality defender than the odd diving stop. Remember, we saw Yuniesky Betancourt make several outstanding-looking plays in the field, only to botch the routine stuff.
So, is Carp a first baseman? Is he a DH? Is he both — splitting future time with Justin Smoak, who will not be given up on anytime soon after only one complete big league season under his belt.
Because if the M’s are prepared to ride a Carp-Smoak duo for years to come, you can forget about a Prince Fielder signing or any other pricier 1B/DH sluggers coming here via trade.
Can the Mariners make that call based on what they’ve now seen? It’s a lot tougher than it appears.

For all the good Carp has done so far, he’s anything but a sure thing for next season. There’s the old caveat about September baseball and clearly, the teams the M’s are now facing are watered-down versions of clubs that were already struggling even when they had bonafide big leaguers filling out their pitching staffs and lineups.
Not a shot at Carp, who’s doing what he can against the only opponents available. Just the facts. These opponents do not make for easy player evaluations this time of year.
Second, there is still the whole strikeouts and plate discipline concern with Carp.
Traditionally, he’s been a guy given to much plate patience. But the Mariners, as we know, are encouraging a swing-first approach to hittable pitches (not unhittable hacking) and that’s led to a decrease in walks and uptick in strikeouts all around.
Carp right now is running a walk rate of only 6.8 percent and a strikeout rate of 27.5 percent.
Remember, a walk rate of 10 percent is considered by many teams to be their “good” target, while you want to keep your strikeouts below 20 percent.
So, Carp is well behind “good” hitters in both. How about his power? There’s a stat called weighted on-base average (wOBA) that weights a player’s on-base numbers and his power numbers to produce a total hitting stat that’s similar to adding the components of OPS together. But wOBA gives more credit to the on-base component simply because a point of on-base percentage numbers is tougher to accumulate than a point of slugging.
The final number reads like a typical on-base (OBP) number. You certainly want it to be higher than .300. League average is around .330, though it fluctuates. Anything above .400 is truly elite class.
Carp right now is running a wOBA of .361. Let’s see how he compares with Fielder.
Prince Fielder
BB rate — 15.2 percent
K rate — 15.5 percent
wOBA — .398
So, as you can see, bringing Fielder in would certainly be an upgrade for the M’s across the board in terms of plate discipline and overall production.
Yes, he would cost a lot of money long-term, but you get what you pay for sometimes. No, it isn’t fair to compare Carp to Fielder in only Carp’s rookie season, but then again, the M’s don’t have five more years for this rebuilding plan to take shape. Felix Hernandez is only under contract three more seasons. Tick tock.
It could be reasonable to expect Carp to increase his numbers next season. But it could also be reasonable to expect pitchers to adjust to Carp and exploit some weaknesses and holes in his swing.
These are the things the M’s will have to think about. There is no guarantee Carp will be able to maintain this level of production moving forward and even if he does, it’s still a discernable notch below where Fielder is already at and has been for some time.
Not only Fielder. Here are some other comps:
Joey Votto
BB rate — 15.6 percent
K rate — 17.4 percent
wOBA — .411
Adrian Gonzalez
BB rate — 9.9 percent
K rate — 16.6 percent
wOBA — .411
Mark Teixeira
BB rate — 10.9 percent
K rate — 16.3 percent
wOBA — .357
I threw Teixeira in there because Carp is actually outdoing him in wOBA, but again, trails considerably in the strikeout and walk rates. And those two latter stats might go a long way towards determining whether Carp can keep his wOBA where it’s at over an entire season.
Because if Carp can do that, his wOBA would already be fifth highest in the league amongst qualified DHs. He would be the ninth best first baseman in all of baseball — so, top third.
With room for improvement, you wouldn’t need a Fielder. But again, is there room for improvement? Or, is Carp just jumping all over pitchers who aren’t always top notch and haven’t seen him coming?
This is where Jack Zduriencik earns the money that you and I don’t simply because we can throw stats out there.
It’s worth noting that most of the first basemen and DH types ahead of Carp in wOBA are playing for contending teams. So, there is the need for improvement, especially since the M’s don’t have a whole bunch of power hitters — or even good hitters — to surround their first baseman or DH with. The Yankees are just fine with Teixeira at .357 because they’ve got plenty of others to carry the load.
But Carp and his .361? He’s pretty much “the man” in this offense right now, at least “big bat” wise. If that’s it, you need more, which is where potential upgrades come in.
Much of it will come down to how much the M’s will be willing to spend. And how much they think they can parlay Carp’s strong second half into trade bait. If they are leaning strong towards either option, Carp will likely not be a long-term fit.
But if they feel he can get his walks up, strikeouts down and continue to hit the ball with authority over a full season — and sooner, rather than later — they very well might stick with him.
Either way, it will be interesting to see how this plays out. The future of this rebuilding plan could very well ride on it.



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