Major League Baseball

New York Yankees get even better with Matt Carpenter's rejuvenation

June 6

By Jordan Shusterman
FOX Sports MLB Writer

Much to the dismay of 29 other fan bases, the 2022 New York Yankees are a ridiculously good baseball team.

Aaron Judge is the AL MVP favorite and might hit 60 home runs. Anthony Rizzo is delivering clutch hits almost daily. The starting pitching has been completely dominant, and Clay Holmes has emerged as one of the best relievers in baseball.

At 39-15 (.722 W%), the Yankees are on pace to win 117 games. One hundred seventeen games!!!!!!!

And this tremendous start goes beyond the obvious superstars in their primes. The best teams in baseball always get contributions from places you wouldn't expect. The breakouts of Nestor Cortes Jr. and Holmes fit this category somewhat. But arguably nothing encapsulates the overwhelming success of the 2022 Yankees more than the stunning rejuvenation of 36-year-old Matt Carpenter.

I’ll be honest: I thought this dude was washed.

And to be fair, I don’t think I was alone. You didn't have to be some analytics wizard to look at the way Carpenter’s offense was trending as he entered his mid-30s and assume that he might not be a useful major-league hitter again. And that was fine. This is a guy who received a $1,000 signing bonus in the 13th round of the 2009 MLB Draft as a 23-year-old redshirt senior out of TCU and turned himself into a three-time All-Star who has made well more than $80 million. 

If the Matt Carpenter story was indeed over after the Cardinals declined his $18.5 million option for the 2022 season, that would've been one hell of a career.

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But perhaps unsurprisingly, a player who had already overcome the odds time and time again was not about to hang up his spikes prematurely, even if the only team he’d ever known no longer needed him.

As recently as 2018, Carpenter was still an excellent hitter. His 140 wRC+ ranked 11th among 140 qualified hitters, and he finished ninth in NL MVP voting. That was four years and a pandemic ago, though, and the decline had been sharp and steady ever since. His 87 wRC+ from 2019 to '21 ranked 196th out of 220 players with at least 800 plate appearances in that span. Carpenter was losing playing time, his numbers barely resembled those of the MVP candidate he once was, and he was entering his age-36 season in 2022.

The one saving grace for Carpenter was that he was still drawing walks at an above-average rate. Although his overall line was lacking, his 13.3% walk rate remained one of the best in the league. Still, he was clearly not impacting the baseball like he did when he was an extra-base-hit machine in 2018. Carpenter's plate discipline remained stellar, but the lack of power resulted in the Cardinals' no longer viewing him as an integral part of their lineup. His time in St. Louis was over.

And so, shortly after the lockout was lifted and a new CBA reached, Carpenter signed a minor-league deal with the Texas Rangers. When he didn’t make the big-league team out of spring training, he reported to Round Rock, where he was easily one of the most decorated players on a Triple-A roster. 

When players with significant MLB time such as Carpenter sign minor-league deals, they often include an opt-out date by which the player can request his release if he doesn't think an opportunity at the major-league level is coming anytime soon. 

And although he hit well in his 21 games with Round Rock — .275/.379/.613 with six home runs, including dingers in his final three games with the Express — the Rangers decided not to call him up, so Carpenter asked out

A week later, he signed with the Yankees and spoke about how he believed he had made some changes in the offseason that would help him get back to being the hitter he was in 2018. Carpenter said his hot start in Triple-A made him optimistic that he was rounding back into form.

The next day, he did this:

About a week later, he battled Shohei Ohtani for 11 pitches before launching a leadoff homer into the second deck:

That lengthy at-bat set the tone for what would be a rough start for Ohtani and a Yankees doubleheader sweep of the Angels.

Then the Tigers came to town, and Carpenter just kept doing damage:

In a matter of weeks, Carpenter has gone from playing against a team called the Space Cowboys in front of about 3,000 fans in Triple-A to launching home runs for the best team in baseball in front of a raucous Yankee Stadium crowd of 40,000-plus.

If the timely homers, lack of batting gloves and fantastic facial hair hadn’t endeared him to the fan base enough, Carpenter even managed to cater to every dad watching at home and pleading for players to bunt against the shift:

Truly, what can’t this guy do?

As Carpenter’s rapid immersion into the Yankees cinematic universe continues, it’s important to remember that his Cardinals tenure essentially spanned the entire length of the post-Albert Pujols era in St. Louis (and then, of course, Pujols returned to St. Louis just as Carpenter departed). Carpenter made his MLB debut in 2011 but appeared in only seven games that year and none in the postseason as St. Louis went on a World Series run. He’d go on to appear in 50 postseason games with St. Louis, but he has no ring to show for it the way the other faces of the franchise such as Adam Wainwright, Yadier Molina and Pujols do.

Now, Carpenter has found a new home on a team with as good a chance as any of helping him finally get that elusive World Series ring.

Granted, it's difficult to project if Carpenter will be able to hold on to his roster spot for the entirety of the season. Although a number of factors have opened up considerable playing time for him recently, it’s unclear how many regular at-bats he’ll have going forward. 

Then again, Carpenter doesn’t seem all that concerned about playing time. He just wants to be a part of this Yankees season and help any way he can.

And if he does manage to stick around all the way until October and keep contributing to a team with World Series aspirations? That would be incredible. 

But even if this hot streak is merely a fun blip in a historic season that leads to a championship, Carpenter and his mustache will be revered for years as one the great cult heroes in recent Yankees history. 

Jordan Shusterman is half of @CespedesBBQ and a baseball writer for FOX Sports. He lives in D.C. but is a huge Seattle Mariners fan and loves watching the KBO, which means he doesn't get a lot of sleep. You can follow him on Twitter @j_shusterman_.

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