Chris Carter (not the Minnesota Vikings receiver recently let go by ESPN) has always been known for three things. You might call these things "true outcomes". Homer. Walk. Strikeout. He swung for the fences on every pitch and if you were a bit warm at the ballpark, you could stand near the plate when he was up and get a nice breeze off his bat head as he swung through pitch after pitch.
This approach has led to lots of walks, lots of homers, and an awful batting average. When his power isn't at an elite level, the lack of contact kills his production and resulted in lots of lost playing time last year. This year, he's with a new team in Milwaukee and things are looking different. Let's find out what he's doing so differently this year and if it is sustainable.
First, the basics. This table shows his career averages in BB%, K%, SwStr%, ISO, AVG, OBP, and SLG, along with his 2016 numbers in each.
You can see that he is doing better across the board (except for walks). There seems to be improvement here. Notice that his strikeout rate is down below 30% for the first time in his career. That's still not a great K-rate, but for him, that's incredible. Pay special attention to that SwStr%. That's a 3% drop. He's still #30 in baseball in that statistic, but that's much better than #7, where he was last year. How did his plate discipline improve so much since last year and his entire previous career?
Well, we can start with this table.
He's swinging at the fewest pitches of his career. That's pretty much my analysis here. His out-of-zone and in-zone swings are both down to career lows. His out-of-zone contact rate is at a peak, while his in-zone contact is about normal. So, basically, the Brewers must have told him to simply swing less. And it's working. By being more selective, it has reduced his SwStr% and his K%. He's chasing fewer pitches and has improved his discipline.
However, this is only part of his hot start to 2016. We do have to address a few other things. Let's start with that insane 0.338 ISO, which is being propped up by a 29.7% HR/FB ratio. That will certainly fall. Even though he has often had high HR/FB ratios, his highest is 21.9% for a full season, which is already up near the top of the leaderboard (that would have been #14 in baseball last year). This means that crazy ISO and slugging should come down. His hard hit % is right in line with previous years, though, and he's #20 on the home run fly ball distance leaderboard with an average distance of 306 feet. So, maybe his power won't drop that much.
One more thing: Besides the drop in swing rate boosting his average, he's also hitting fewer infield flies than ever before. Here is his infield fly ball % (IFFB%) from 2013 to now: 12.1%, 16%, 8.7%, 2.7%. That's a big improvement. If he can sustain anything close to that, it is a big boost to batting average.
Let's wrap this up. Chris Carter is off to a great start in 2016. His batting average (among other things) is better than ever before. This boost is legit because he has improved his plate discipline and is hitting fewer pop ups. I think he can hit 0.240 the rest of the way. His power will come back to earth a little with his HR/FB rate regression, but his power is still certainly excellent and a 35-HR season with a 0.260 ISO and 0.500 SLG is well within reach.
He's probably gone in most leagues, but if you think someone might try to sell high on Carter worrying that he will come crashing back to earth, you should pounce. I am buying real improvements from Carter this year and I expect him to be a top 10 1B option all year. Who saw this coming after a pretty poor 2015? Tschus!