In the 25 games since the All Star Break, Houston Astros DH Chris Carter is hitting .302/.364/.656 with nine homers and a wRC+ of 183. This gives him a season line of .230/.302/.515 with 28 homers, wRC+127.
A hot streak, obviously, and a lot of people are assuming that he'll cool off soon enough.
But what if this isn't just a hot streak? What if he's made some genuine changes that could stick?
David G. Temple at Fangraphs took a look at Carter yesterday and made some intriguing observations: since July 1st, Carter has made quantifiable progress swinging at fewer pitches outside the strike zone. He's not just getting lucky; he has made a real change in his approach. This corresponds with reports that Carter made an adjustment to his swing in early July, shortening it up and closing some of the holes that pitchers previously exploited.
I've always found Carter fascinating. In February 2013 I wrote an article called "An Insane Prediction Regarding Chris Carter." Reviewing my observations and comments about Carter over the years, in the minors I observed him shortening his swing and show actual hitting skills to go with the pure power. With that in mind, the insane prediction was:
I have nothing super-sabermetric to back this opinion up, but I believe (and it is a belief, an opinion, just to be clear) Chris Carter is going to have a genuinely excellent season in 2013 or (more probably) 2014 that will not be a complete result of park effects, but will reflect real talent on his part. I think he'll cut back on the strikeouts one year and really go nuts and hit .302/.397/.575 or something, a season everyone will marvel at and that he won't repeat, but which will be a lot of fun to watch while it lasts and will be viewed as a classic historical example of the "age 27/28 peak" for years to come.
It didn't happen in 2013. And it didn't happen through the first three months of 2014. But for the last six weeks, it has been happening, at a .302/.364/.656 clip. . .I wrote .302/.397/.575, so he's been doing even better than dreamed. The batting average was right but he's shown even more power than the insane prediction hoped for.
I think the change is real and that his current outburst is a result of genuine improvement. That does not mean he will sustain it: it is one thing to get locked in for six weeks, and quite another to stay locked in for six months. He has to prove that he can keep this going once the new scouting reports get around; he could easily fall back into old habits.
The insane prediction was that Carter could keep his approach in gear for long enough to make an All-Star Team or even be a surprise MVP candidate for one season. That didn't verify in 2013, and it won't be 2014 in aggregate, due to the slow start. But if he maintains the momentum the rest of this season, perhaps the prediction will seem a bit less insane for 2015.