Matt Carpenter provides the St. Louis Cardinals with the same positional flexibility the Chicago Cubs have with Ben Zobrist.
Ben Zobrist is known around the major leagues as the ultimate utility man. A player capable of playing any defensive position (outside of pitcher and catcher, of course) and able to hit at the top of the lineup. The St. Louis Cardinals have their own Mr. Utility.
Matt Carpenter has been the Swiss Army knife of the Cardinals for the past five seasons. But with the move to full time first baseman this year, the St. Louis Cardinals are still hoping that Carpenter will stay sharp at multiple positions.
Since becoming a regular starter for the Cardinals in 2012, Carpenter has played 436 games at third base, 188 games at second base, 94 games at first base and 51 games in the outfield. Last year, he played 54 at third, 45 at first and 40 at second. It is that type of multi-position flexibility that has made Carpenter one of the highest valued assets in the Cardinals organization.
Zobrist, for comparison’s sake, has played games at all four infield and all three outfield positions in his career. A feat that very few men in history have on their resume.
It is not just the versatility that keeps Carpenter in the lineup, however. Carpenter has been the sturdy pillar at the top of the Cardinals lineup for the past few years. In 2016, he hit .271 (his lowest average since becoming a full-time big leaguer in 2012) and had another terrific OBP at .380 (the second highest of his career). He was also selected to his third All-Star Game.
Unfortunately, due to the demanding nature of playing multiple positions on a daily basis, durability has now become a concern. Last year, due to a nagging oblique injury, Carpenter played only 129 games. This after he had played no fewer than 154 in the previous three seasons. Not only did the injury derail his hot start, but Carpenter was not the same man post-injury. And now, before 2017 has even begun, Carpenter is once again battling injury. This time a back injury that forced him out of the WBC, and he is just now getting back on the field.
The Cardinals’ plan was to help keep Carpenter on the field all season by playing him at first base to provide some stability to the position. A position that saw three different men start at least 35 games in 2016: Matt Adams (69 games), Brandon Moss (40) and Carpenter (35).
If Carpenter can stay healthy, he provides manager Mike Matheny with options and allows the Cardinals to once again compete in the uber-competitive National League Central. A luxury Ben Zobrist has provided every manager he has played for in his career.