The landscape of the baseball world is changing and has been for several years. The days of the Sammy Sosa vs. Mark McGwire home run chase were fun, and I think the saying still applies that, as Greg Maddux and Nike taught us, “chicks dig the long ball.”
On the other hand, general managers across the league don’t put that much stock in it anymore. Yes, the home run is still a major player in the world of baseball, but just hitting them isn’t good enough. Sabermetrics are taking over, and like it or not, it’s been going more and more that direction with each new GM that enters the league.
To help prove my point that general managers aren’t looking for home runs, I present to you Chris Carter. The 30-year-old finished tied for sixth in MLB (tied for first in the National League) last season with 41 home runs. He was let go by the Milwaukee Brewers after the season and is currently a free agent. The latest report from Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports suggests Carter’s lukewarm (at best) market may have to find his next home in Japan. The same guy that tied Nolan Arenado in home runs in the NL can’t find a job in MLB. That’s crazy, right? Wrong. Let’s dive deeper into the numbers.
Carter’s best year by batting average came in 2012, when he hit .239. This past season he hit .222 (up from .199 in 2015). His career slash line is .218/.314/.463. In 2016, he was next to last in strikeout percentage (32%) and only trailed Chris Davis (32.9%) among first basemen. Davis had a higher walk rate (13.2% to 11.8%) than Carter. Carter ranked 19 of 23 qualified first basemen with a 0.9 WAR (Wins Above Replacement). In summary, outside of hitting 41 home runs, he was not very good at the plate and hasn’t been throughout his career. But that’s not where the story ends.
He led all qualified first basemen with 11 errors a season ago and was in the bottom three with a -5.2 UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating), which measures your overall ability at the position. So, not only was he not very good at the plate but he was below average in the field as well.
The casual fan may see 41 home runs and wonder why he isn’t getting a shot somewhere. After checking out a few fairly common stats it’s pretty easy to see. Plus, I just scratched the surface on numbers that teams look at when evaluating a player to bring into their organization. While home runs can impact a game, they don’t mean success. Last season, just four of the ten postseason teams were in the top ten in the league in home runs. Only one of those four, the Toronto Blue Jays, won a postseason series, and that was against one of the other teams in the top ten (Texas Rangers). The World Series champion Chicago Cubs were 13th overall in home runs last year, with the runner-up Cleveland Indians coming in at 18th overall.
Not all hope is lost for the slugger, there are still a couple of options for Carter in MLB. The Tampa Bay Rays would probably be the most likely landing spot, as they are rumored to be kicking the tires on free agents sluggers Mike Napoli, Pedro Alvarez, and Carter. Mark Reynolds was also in the conversation, but the Colorado Rockies signed him to a minor league deal last week. Napoli could end up reuniting with the Texas Rangers, as they currently have Jurickson Profar penciled in at first base with Joey Gallo and Shin-Soo Choo as options for DH.
The home run will always be one of the most exciting plays in baseball, but you better be a well-rounded player if you want to keep a job in MLB.