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Deciphering Matt Carpenter's Immense Value to the St. Louis Cardinals

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The website FanGraphs, the gold standard for online baseball analytics, tracks every ball that is hit in every Major League game and classifies it as being either hard, medium or soft contact. Also on the site, one can sort hitters by how often they hit the ball in each classification.

Guess who leads all of baseball in hard-hit percentage? It's not Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Josh Donaldson or anyone else you would probably think.

It's underrated third baseman Matt Carpenter.

The 30-year-old infielder was sent to the 15-day Disabled List after he suffered a strained oblique on Wednesday. Oblique injuries are tricky, and manager Mike Matheny made it clear that his rehab can’t be rushed.

“Carp’s going to be careful with this,” Matheny told reporters. “It’s going to take those two weeks at the very minimum.”

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So Carpenter will miss the All-Star Game—it has already been announced that his teammate Aledmyas Diaz will take his place—but how long will it take before the Cardinals get back the heart and soul of their team?

“It’s not how you design it, but things like this happen,” Matheny said, via Jenifer Langosch of MLB.com. “You have to make the most of it and take advantage of the rest that the rest of his body will get. And then plan on riding it hard after the rest.”

This is a crushing blow for St. Louis, a team that has struggled at times even with Carpenter in the lineup. Everything about him screams value—he’s an incredibly patient hitter who works deep counts and drives up pitch counts, he consistently knocks the cover off the ball and he plays solid defense.

A veteran scout told Mark Saxon of ESPN.com that losing Carpenter would be “awful for any team.”

“He’s such a tough out who grinds pitchers,” the scout said, per Saxon. “He does damage, he’s not just an OBP (on-base percentage) guy.”

In addition to his traditional stats—a .298 batting average with 14 home runs and 53 RBI—Carpenter currently leads the National League in OBP, offensive wins-above-replacement (WAR), OPS+ and is second in OPS and doubles.

As far as value goes, Carpenter is what makes the Cardinals lineup go. He hits leadoff, he leads the club in several offensive categories and he does everything in his power to help his team win. The most dazzling evidence of this is actually what he has done defensively. He has spent significant time at second base, third base, first base and even the outfield in the past five years, something that not a lot of established stars would do willingly.

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

The 30-year-old TCU product leads all of baseball in wOBA and wRC+, according to FanGraphs, as well as runs created, adjusted batting runs and offensive win percentage, per Baseball-Reference. All five of those statistics measure how important a player is to his offense by getting on base, hitting and creating runs.

In other words, in both the scouting and sabermetric community, Carpenter is one of the game’s best players even if he usually isn’t treated like one.

“He’s almost the face of the franchise, not just for his success on the field, but for his leadership in the clubhouse and his evolution to be able to play multiple positions when asked,” St. Louis general manager John Mozeliak said, via Saxon. “He never complains. He’s always been a great teammate and someone from an organizational standpoint you’re lucky to have.”

The Redbirds sure are lucky to have Carpenter on their team, but they will be without him for likely more than two weeks. Brandon Moss, their home run leader, is also on the DL, meaning they will be without their top two run producers for the foreseeable future.

Matheny will try to piece together his lineup during that time, and Mozeliak might even assess the trade market for lineup help. But whatever happens, one thing will be crystal clear.

Carpenter will be sorely missed, and that is a testament to his outstanding numbers, team-first attitude and all-around enormous value.

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