Sunday, June 1, 2014

Did Juan Uribe Kill David Carpenter?

A creature of habit, Fredi Gonzalez has continued to call upon David Carpenter to set-up Craig Kimbrel. However, rarely has Carpenter pitched to his capabilities this season. Of his 27 appearances, the strong right-hander has faced at least three batters 24 times. He has eight shutdown appearances where he came in, retired three, and went back to the dugout (or finished the game). The remaining 16 have seen at least one batter reach, including yesterday's four batters reaching without recording an out. Now, it wasn't all his fault. For the second time in three games, his defense didn't help him much.

Still, a familiar problem has plagued Carpenter. He just can't get through clean innings despite striking out 28 of the 104 he has faced, or 27%. His control has never been better (just six walks) and overall, he carries a 2.66 FIP and 3.05 xFIP. Compare that with his .403 BABIP and, statistically, you come to the conclusion that Carpenter has been woefully unlucky.

But is there more? Last postseason, Carpenter famously was left to rot on the mound against the Dodgers when Juan Uribe put the Dodgers ahead and effectively ended the Braves season. Fans remember that and Kimbrel's face of frustration as the best reliever in the game could not do a thing to halt the Dodgers. Could there be a mental block remaining on Carpenter where he struggles in high leverage situations?

According to baseball-reference last season, Carpenter gave up a .423 OPS in high-leverage situations, .472 OPS in medium, and .623 in low leverage. He was nasty when he needed to be nasty and was great in those moments of the game when an out is needed. This season, it's flipped. Not counting yesterday's game, Carpenter has been hit up for a .758 OPS in high leverage situations. Now, there are a few caveats to mention here. One, sample size shrinks the level of confidence we have in making judgements on these numbers. Second, Carpenter has been rarely used in low leverage situations this season after "proving himself" last year so his numbers are especially skewed.

Nevertheless, those numbers don't give us much reason to get excited about Carpenter moving forward. Again, there is room to believe Carpenter has been unlucky and not getting the breaks. But there is just as much a justifiable opinion that Carpenter isn't as good as he was last year which, coincidence or not, follows a postseason meltdown.

With Jordan Walden still out with a hamstring issue, Jonny Venters trying to work through soreness, and Luis Avilan's troubles this season, the Braves have leaned on Carpenter and have not seen the results they need to receive. The promotion of Shae Simmons supports the belief that the Braves are concerned about their middle inning relief. Overall, I think Carpenter will be fine, but my confidence in him has definitely been tested. It was only last August that I came around on believing in this guy. His struggles this season are making me concerned he won't be that guy I believed he could be last season, though. Maybe some rest and low leverage situations will clear his head, but with so many low scoring games, the Braves need him almost too much right now.

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