Yesterday at Fake Teams, Rob Parker examined the 2016 season of Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Chris Carter. Currently standing at .245/.307/.580, Carter has slugged 12 homers while drawing 15 walks against 52 strikeouts in 143 at-bats.
That's still a pretty low batting average and high whiff rate, but as Parker points out it still represents considerable improvement over Carter's past seasons, with notable improvements in strikeout rates and swing-and-miss rates. Parker's observations in summary:
He's swinging at the fewest pitches of his career. That's pretty much my analysis here. His out-of-zone and in-zone swings are both down to career lows. His out-of-zone contact rate is at a peak, while his in-zone contact is about normal. So, basically, the Brewers must have told him to simply swing less. And it's working. By being more selective, it has reduced his SwStr% and his K%. He's chasing fewer pitches and has improved his discipline.
I think he can hit 0.240 the rest of the way. His power will come back to earth a little with his HR/FB rate regression, but his power is still certainly excellent and a 35-HR season with a 0.260 ISO and 0.500 SLG is well within reach. He's probably gone in most leagues, but if you think someone might try to sell high on Carter worrying that he will come crashing back to earth, you should pounce. I am buying real improvements from Carter this year and I expect him to be a top 10 1B option all year.
I suspect a lot of people will be skeptical about Carter. After all, we've been through this before with Chris. Back in 2014 he went on a huge hot streak with the Astros, geared by similar improvements in plate discipline, but he couldn't sustain it for more than a couple of months and slipped back into old habits last year.
Heck, it goes back further than that. Carter has always been a low batting average slugger in aggregate, but even back in the minors he went through long stretches where his pure hitting skills suddenly sharpened up and he would clobber the ball for months at a time, hitting to all fields for both average and power with higher walks and fewer strikeouts. But at some point he'd lose track of the zone again, the Ks would pile up, and the batting average would plummet.
I noted this pattern back in 2013 and made an Insane Prediction that Carter would eventually hold his hitting skills over a sixth-month stretch and have an All-Star, even MVP-caliber season. That looked not-so-crazy at times in 2014, but in 2015 it looked very Insane with Carter's .199 average in Houston. But here he is in 2016, on a pace for nearly 50 homers.
Can he keep that up? If history is any guide, probably not for all season. But can he keep it going for the rest of May and June and end up with an All-Star nod? That certainly seems possible.
Go Chris Carter, Go!