Wednesday, March 27, 2019

The Quirk-y Truth about Harold Baines Wearing the Number 6 Jersey on Some of His 1991 Baseball Cards

Baines wearing #6 on his 1991 Donruss

Following Harold Baines’ controversial election to the Hall of Fame, I delved into my collection to see which baseball cards of the slugger I owned.  One card that I completely forgot I had was Baines' 1991 Donruss.  The green bordered card features Baines in an Oakland Athletics home jersey with the photo taken sometime late in the 1990 season, following his August 29 trade from the Texas Rangers.  After looking at the card a few times, something stood out to me--I noticed Baines was wearing number 6 rather than his customary number 3.  This seemed odd as I had other cards of Baines in an A's uniform from the 1992 and 1993 sets and on each of those he is wearing number 3.  With this in mind, I pulled up Baines' Baseball Reference page which shows the slugger has worn 10, 13, 29 and 33 at different points of his career.  However, the highly-informative website has no record of Baines ever suiting up in 6 and does not list him as wearing any number other than 3 for the 1990 A's.  I also checked the two other main websites that list complete rosters with uniform numbers--Baseball Almanac and Baseball Cube--but both show the exact same information.  With all three of these meticulously-researched websites in agreement that Baines only wore number 3 for Oakland in 1990, despite his Donruss card indicating otherwise, I decided to investigate the matter.

Screenshot of Baines' Baseball Reference page with uniform number history

Baines wearing his customary #3 for the Chicago White Sox
Fresh off winning the 1989 World Series, the defending champion Oakland A's stunned the baseball world when they pulled off a pair of big transactions just two days before the August 31 Trade Deadline by acquiring former NL MVP Willie McGee from the St. Louis Cardinals and four-time All-Star Harold Baines in a deal with the Texas Rangers.  Surprisingly, the A's only had to give up a couple of prospects to land Baines, who had two full years remaining on his existing contract.  At the time of the trades, Oakland stood atop the AL West Division with a six and half game lead over the second place Chicago White Sox--the team that selected Baines with the number one overall pick in the 1977 Amateur Draft and was home to the slugger for the first nine and half years of his major league career.  With a young, relatively inexperienced roster, Chicago was an unlikely contender in the AL West--especially after finishing at the bottom of the division the year before.  White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf had been hesitant to trade Baines, but with the club mired in last place after a series of losing seasons, the franchise went into rebuilding mode and dealt the veteran to Texas in July 1989.  In fact, Reinsdorf thought so highly of his former player that the White Sox retired number 3 in Baines' honor when the slugger returned to Chicago for the first time as opposing player, less than a month after the trade.

Quirk had three stints in Kansas City alongside longtime friend Brett
While all three websites list Baines wearing number 3 for the 1990 A's, they show one of the club's bench players, Jamie Quirk, as also having used the jersey number during the season but do not specify when.  A veteran in his sixteenth major league season, Quirk was a utility player for the A's, serving as the club's third string catcher, occasional pinch hitter, and emergency fill in for each of the corner infield positions.  Quirk is most remembered for his time with the Kansas City Royals, whom he played parts of eleven seasons for in three separate stints.  A few years into his career, Quirk was struggling to stay in the major leagues when Royals manager Whitey Herzog suggested he learn how to catch.  Quirk took his manager’s advice and was soon played at catcher more than any other position.  Being able to work behind the plate helped keep Quirk in the big leagues and undoubtedly extended his career, though he was rarely used in anything more than a back up role.  Quirk is also remembered by Royals fans for his long-standing friendship with franchise icon George Brett, who the veteran backstop played alongside during each of his stints with the team.  Although he spent the bulk of his career with the Royals, Quirk was a baseball nomad who played for eight different franchises.  Quirk’s 1990 campaign actually represented his second go-around with Oakland, having briefly played with the club for a month during the middle of the 1989 season before being released.  For the majority of his time in Kansas City, Quirk wore 9 but that number was taken on the A's, as it had been used by infielder Mike Gallego since 1985.  Thus, Quirk opted to use 3 during his brief stint with the A's in 1989 and donned the number again when he was signed by the team as free agent for 1990.

In addition to listing Quirk as wearing 3 for the 1990 A's, all three websites show the veteran catcher as having suited up in number 6 during the season as well.  However, the websites also list outfielder Felix Jose as taking the field wearing 6 for Oakland in 1990, the number he had used since making his major league debut for the club in 1988.  Yet, Jose is also listed as using 14 for the 1990 A’s, which became available when Storm Davis left the team via free agency after wearing the number for Oakland in 1988 and 1989.  Regardless, we know Jose’s wearing 6 does not interfere with any time Baines would have used the number since the outfielder was traded to the Cardinals as part of the August 29 deal that sent McGee to the A’s on the same day the club acquired Baines.  It is likely Quirk handed over number 3 to Baines shortly after the slugger's trade to Oakland.  In fact, Getty Images has a photo of Quirk wearing number 3, a little over a month before the trade that brought Baines to Oakland, during a July 26 game against the California Angels.  When a high-profile or particularly superstitious player joins a new team and the number they regularly wear is already being used by another player, often times a deal involving a sum of money or gift is worked out between the two parties in exchange for the number in question.  Some of these sums of money or gifts can be extravagant such as the $40,000 motorcycle Brian Jordan bought Atlanta Braves coach Fredi Gonzalez in 2005 for number 33 or the $25,000 Rickey Henderson paid his Toronto Blue Jays teammate Turner Ward to relinquish number 24.  However, those are extreme examples and being two relatively low-key ball players, it is doubtful there was any excessive amount of money or outrageous gift exchanged between Baines and Quirk in return for the number.

Baines briefly wore #13 after his trade to Texas
A similar series of events took place after Baines was traded from Chicago to Texas during the middle of the 1989 season.  When Baines joined the Rangers in late July, the slugger initially wore number 13 since his customary 3 was being used by the team's first baseman Rafael Palmeiro.  However, before the end of the season, Baines was wearing 3 for Texas and Palmeiro was taking the field in number 25, which had become available when veteran Buddy Bell retired on June 24.  Palmeiro had previously worn 25 when he played for the Chicago Cubs and, from that point forward, used the number for the remainder of his lengthy career.  An interesting thing about Baines’ time in Texas is virtually all the baseball cards made of him in a Rangers uniform, where his jersey number is visible, show him wearing 13 even though he used the number less than half a season and was back to his customary 3 before the end of the year.  Evidently, the card manufacturers must have used photographs of Baines that were taken soon after his trade to Texas and before the slugger starting using number 3 with the Rangers.  Baines wore 3 for the remainder of his time with Texas but because he was swapped to Oakland before the end of the following season, the cards from the 1991 sets that would have had him wearing 3 for the Rangers instead feature the veteran in an A's jersey.

Some of Baines' 1991 cards have the slugger wearing #6 while others have him in his customary #3

Taking a look at all of Baines’ cards from 1991, I noticed the slugger is wearing number 6, not only on his Donruss but also on both his Score and Topps cards.  However, Baines is sporting his customary 3 on his 1991 cards from the Upper Deck and Mother's Cookies sets.  Quirk’s jersey number is visible on three cards from 1991.  The veteran catcher is suited up in number 3 on his Donruss and Fleer cards and wearing 6 on his Mother’s Cookies card.  On Baines' Score card, the dugout of the opposing team can be seen in the blurred background.  From the shot on the Score card, it appears the visiting team is the Kansas City Royals due to their blue jerseys.  The only time Baines faced the Royals at home following his trade to Oakland was an August 30 meeting between the two clubs which, coincidentally was the slugger’s first game in an A’s uniform.  Oakland beat Kansas City 6-5 that day on a Mike Gallego walk-off single.  Baines went 1 for 4 in his A's debut with a single and an intentional walk while Quirk did not play in the game.

Like Baines, Quirk is featured in two different jersey numbers on his 1991 cards as well

A photograph of Baines wearing number 6 can also be found on Getty Images.  Unlike the Quirk photo, the website does not specify what date the photo was taken, but it is clearly from the August 30 A’s/Royals game, as Kansas City’s blue jerseys with white lettering are even easier to distinguish in the background of the photo than on Baines’ Score card.  Moreover, there is a light trace of dirt on each of Baines’ knees that is visible on both his Score card and Getty Image photo.  The trace of dirt on Baines' knees shows up again on a picture of the slugger clad in the number 6 A's home uniform that has appeared on memorabilia websites such as Pristine Auction.  In addition, on Baines’ 1991 Topps, the veteran has what appears to be the same trace of dirt on his one knee that is visible.  Thus far, this handful of baseball cards and photos are the only ones I have been able to find of Baines wearing number 6.  Aside from Baines’ Donruss, each of these shots feature a trace of dirt on the slugger’s knees and/or the presence of Kansas City players in the background, which essentially confirms that they were taken during the August 30 A's/Royals game.  What’s more, it is possible that even the picture used for Baines’ Donruss was from the August 30 game since it is a closer shot where his knees and the opposing team's dugout are not visible.  Also, each of the three cards and both photos feature Baines in the A’s white home uniform.  Following Baines' August 30 debut with Oakland, the club played a three game series at home--which coincidentally was against the Rangers--before they embarked on a nine game road trip.  Due to not being able to find any pictures of Baines wearing number 6 in the A’s gray road uniform, I am assuming that Baines and Quirk exchanged jersey numbers either immediately after the August 30 A’s/Royals game or sometime before setting out on their nine game road trip.

The trade to Oakland reunited Baines with skipper Tony La Russa, his manager for the majority of his time with Chicago.  Baines solidified the A’s roster and strengthened their line up by giving them a regular designated hitter to bat out of the clean up spot.  Yet after arriving in Oakland, Baines hit an uncharacteristically low. 266 with only 3 home runs.  While Baines' batting average and longball power were below his career norms, the dependable slugger put up a solid 128 OPS+ as he reached base at a .381 clip and still managed to produce 21 RBI over just 118 plate appearances in 32 games.  Prior to his brief foray with the 1989 A's, Quirk had played for La Russa in Chicago--albeit for just 3 games during the 1984 season.  Never particularly known for his bat, Quirk had one of his finest seasons at the plate, hitting .281 with 3 home runs and 26 RBI in 144 plate appearances along with a .353 OBP and 119 OPS+.  Quirk's impressive hitting stats were similar to Baines', though they were accomplished over a full season as a bench player while Baines' came in just over a month with the club.  As the A's third string backstop behind Terry Steinbach and Ron Hassey on the catching depth chart and occasional corner infielder, Quirk did not make his way into the starting line up very often.  In fact, Quirk appeared in just 56 games--drawing starts in exactly half of them with 26 behind the plate along with one each at first and third base.  Yet, in his limited time behind the plate, Quirk did an excellent job managing the run game, throwing out 11 of 21 would be base-stealers for an impressive 52% caught stealing rate which was well above the 34% league average.  Oakland cruised to a 103-59 record to pick up their third consecutive AL West title, finishing nine games ahead of the second place White Sox.

Quirk delivered a timely pinch-hit in Game 1 of the 1990 ALCS
The A’s swept the AL East champion Boston Red Sox in the ALCS to win their third straight AL Pennant.  Baines did his part, batting .357 with 3 RBI in the four game-series.  Quirk only appeared once in the ALCS, but made the most it:  With Oakland down 1-0 in the top of the 7th inning of Game 1, Quirk delivered a timely pinch-hit single which moved base runner Walt Weiss from 1st to 3rd and set up Rickey Henderson’s go-ahead sacrifice fly on the next play.  The A's were heavily favored to beat the NL Pennant-winning Cincinnati Reds in the World Series.  This marked Baines' first trip to the Fall Classic while Quirk had won a World Championship as a member of the 1985 Royals postseason roster, though the veteran backstop did not play in any of the World Series games.  The Reds stunned the baseball world by taking the first two games in Cincinnati.  In Game 1, the A’s were dominated by Reds starter Jose Rijo, who had pitched for Oakland from 1985 to 1987.  Because designated hitters are not used in World Series games played in NL ballparks, Baines was not in the starting line up for either Game 1or 2.  However, Baines was called upon to pinch hit in Game 2 with two out in the top of the 10th, a runner on 1st, and the score tied but was struck out by flame-throwing reliever Rob Dibble.  Back in the starting line up for Game 3 in Oakland, Baines delivered in a big way--going deep off Cincinnati starter Tom Browning in the bottom of the 2nd inning for a two-run home run to put the his team up 2-1.  Unfortunately, the A's pitching imploded in the next inning, giving up seven runs and the Reds easily won the game 8-3 to put themselves one win away from an unlikely sweep.  The following day, Quirk made his first World Series appearance when La Russa started him at catcher for Game 4 to get another left-handed bat in the line up.  It is also likely La Russa was aware that Quirk had hit well against Rijo, whom Cincinnati brought back to start Game 4.  In fact, going into the game, Quirk owned a .333 batting average with 2 home runs in 13 plate appearances against the Reds starter--each of which came when Rijo was a young pitcher for Oakland.  However, Quirk was overmatched by Rijo--going 0 for 3 with two strikeouts--as the hurler once again dominated Oakland to complete the sweep for Cincinnati.  Getty Images has photos of both Baines and Quirk from the 1990 World Series.  The website’s photos of Baines hitting and celebrating his Game 3 home run show him back in his customary 3 jersey while a shot of Quirk from Game 4 confirms the veteran catcher finished the season wearing number 6.

Baines and Quirk remained with the A’s following the club’s shocking World Series loss to Cincinnati.  With two years left on his existing contract, Baines continued in his role as the team’s designated hitter, batting out of the clean up spot.  Oakland released Quirk shortly after the World Series but decided to re-sign the veteran receiver just a few weeks later.  The A’s chose not to re-sign Ron Hassey and promoted Quirk to back up catcher behind Terry Steinbach.  Quirk switched numbers once again, this time back to 9--the number he had worn for the majority of his time with the Royals--which had become available when Mike Gallego left the A's and signed as a free agent with the New York Yankees.

Baines and Quirk remained with Oakland through the 1992 season
After their 103-win 1990 season, Oakland slumped to 4th place with an 84-78 record the following year but rebounded to go 96-66 and recapture the AL West crown in 1992.  Unfortunately, the A’s lost the ALCS in six games to the Toronto Blue Jays despite Baines banging out 11 hits and batting a sizzling .440.  Quirk flew out in his only ALCS plate appearance.  The 1992 season turned out to be the last one in Oakland for both Baines and Quirk.  Baines accepted arbitration with the A’s when his contract expired at season’s end but was then traded to the Baltimore Orioles before the 1993 campaign began.  Quirk was released by Oakland after the ALCS.  The veteran catcher then signed as a free agent with the Reds but was let go during Spring Training, bringing an end to his lengthy playing career.  Thus began Quirk's coaching career, which has paralleled his time on the field as he has served at both the minor and major league levels for several different organizations, including multiple stints with the Royals franchise.

The trade to Baltimore represented a homecoming of sorts for Baines who was born on the Eastern Shore of Maryland.  Baines spent the remainder of his career essentially going back and forth between the Orioles and White Sox--two franchises whose respective owners, Peter Angelos and Jerry Reinsdorf, admired the veteran slugger and valued his services.  Baines wrapped up his playing career in 2001 as a member of the White Sox and stayed with the organization, working in a variety of roles including coaching.  While winning a World Series ring as a player eluded Baines, the former slugger was Chicago’s bench coach when the club defeated the Houston Astros to win the 2005 Fall Classic.  Last December, Baines’ fine career was capped with his election to the Hall of Fame by the Today’s Game Era Committee.  Unfortunately, Baines’ election was shrouded in controversy as two of his biggest supporters during his career, La Russa and Reinsdorf, sat on the 16-member voting panel.  Baines' election resulted in charges of cronyism being leveled against the voting body.  While his detractors are not out of line to point out that Baines may be one of the more debatable Hall of Fame selections of recent memory, nevertheless it is a shame for there to be so much acrimony in the wake of his election.  Each time Baines rejoined the White Sox, whether it was as a coach or player, the club un-retired his number 3 jersey for him to use.  Baines wore 3 for almost his entire career, though he briefly took the field in other numbers as well.  Although it may have been for only one game and seemingly slipped through the cracks, we can confidently add 6 to the list of numbers worn by the Hall of Fame slugger.

----by John Tuberty

Follow my blog and other meanderings on Twitter @BloggerTubbs

Photo credit:  Screenshot of Harold Baines' Baseball Reference page; Harold Baines 1991 Donruss, 1984 Topps, 1990 Score, 1991 Score, 1991 Topps, 1991 Upper Deck, 1991 Mother's Cookies, 1992 Topps; Jamie Quirk 1989 Topps, 1991 Donruss, 1991 Fleer, 1991 Mother's Cookies, 1991 Topps, 1992 Topps; George Brett 1989 Topps 

Other Articles by Tubbs Baseball Blog: 

The Break-up of The Oakland A's Dynasty, How The Players Fared After Leaving as Free Agents, and Their Airbrushed 1977 Topps Cards

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Matt Carpenter Achieves the Rare Feat of Going an Entire Season Without Grounding into a Double Play

Carpenter grounded into zero double plays in 2018

Matt Carpenter's 2018 season will be largely remembered for enduring the worst slump of his career and the seemingly salsa-fueled hot streak that followed.  However, the St. Louis Cardinals infielder also quietly achieved a rare feat during his excellent 2018 campaign when he finished the season without grounding into a double play.  By doing so, Carpenter became just the tenth hitter to go an entire campaign without being doubled up while amassing the required number of plate appearances to qualify for the batting title.

Grounding into double plays has been tracked by the NL since 1933 and by the AL since 1939.  Over that time, going an entire season without being doubled up while accumulating enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title is a rare feat only accomplished by nine other hitters prior to Carpenter--George Watkins, Pete Reiser, Dick McAuliffe, Rob Deer, Rickey Henderson, Ray Lankford, Otis Nixon, Craig Biggio, and Chase Utley--and never by the same player twice.  Moreover, nearly half of the players to complete the double play-free campaign achieved it under special circumstances.  The first hitter to turn the trick, Watkins, did so in 1934 with just 329 plate appearances for the season as only 100 games played were required to qualify for the batting title at the time.  In addition, Henderson, Lankford, and Nixon each had their double play-free campaigns in 1994 when the baseball strike wiped out nearly the last third of the season.  Also, Augie Galan is sometimes credited with going the entire 1935 campaign without hitting into a twin-kill, however, according to Retrosheet's game logs from that season, the slugger was indeed doubled up on June 25 of that year.

Statistics from the ten double play-free seasons

Year G
Watkins 1934 105
296 38 73 18 3 6 33 24 34 2
Reiser 1942 125
480 89 149 33 5 10 64 48 45 20
McAuliffe 1968 151
570 95 142 24 10 16 56 82 99 8
Deer 1990 134
440 57 92 15 1 27 69 64 147 2
Nixon 1994 103
398 60 109 15 1 0 25 55 65 42
Lankford 1994 109
416 89 111 25 5 19 57 58 113 11
Henderson 1994 87
296 66 77 13 0 6 20 72 45 22
Biggio 1997 162
619 146 191 37 8 22 81 84 107 47
Utley 2016 138
512 79 129 26 3 14 52 40 115 2
Carpenter 2018 156
564 111 145 42 0 36 81 102 158 4

Throughout his career, Carpenter has always been difficult to turn two on.  Going into the 2018 campaign, the Cards slugger had only once grounded into more than five double plays in a season.  Moreover, prior to 2018, Carpenter's career average for grounding into a twin-kill when he had the opportunity do so was just 6.1%--well below the MLB average which usually hovers around 11%.  Part of what makes Carpenter so difficult to double up are his swing mechanics which focuses on hitting the ball in the air and slugging hard line drives while avoiding hitting the ball on the ground.  In fact, Carpenter's 26.4% ground ball rate in 2018 easily ranked lowest among 140 qualified hitters and well below the MLB average of 43.2%.  Low ground ball rates have been commonplace for Carpenter the last several seasons as the Cardinals infielder produced the lowest mark in 2017 with 26.9% while his respective totals of 30.6% in 2016 and 29.7% in 2015 ranked him fifth and second from the bottom in those years.  Conversely, Carpenter's swing mechanics generates lots of fly balls and line drives as the slugger ranked among the top-ten in both categories during 2018.

Carpenter’s yearly GDP per Opp rates

3 0 0.0%
86 10 11.6%
74 4 5.4%
80 3 3.8%
95 5 5.3%
71 4 5.6%
97 5 5.2%
91 0 0.0%
597 31 5.2%

In addition to his swing mechanics, batting out of the leadoff spot played a large role in Carpenter joining the small group of hitters to complete a double play-free campaign.  Leadoff hitters are more likely to accomplish the feat than any other spot in the batting order because they are guaranteed at least one plate appearance with no runners on base.  Moreover, following their initial plate appearance, leadoff batters spend the rest of the game batting behind the weakest hitters in the order who are often asked to sacrifice when there is a runner on first base.

For the majority of his career, Carpenter has batted out of the leadoff spot where he has hit much better than in comparison to other spots in the order.  Carpenter is certainly not the prototypical top of the order base-stealing speed merchant, having never swiped more than five bags in a season.  What's more, over the last few seasons, Carpenter started putting up slugging percentage and home run totals more commonly seen by hitters batted in the heart of the order.  Nevertheless, Carpenter and the Cardinals seem to have recognized, perhaps begrudgingly, that despite his skill-set, the infielder performs his best when batted leadoff.

Carpenter's career GDP per Opp is just 5.2%
St. Louis initially began batting Carpenter at the top of the order during his 2013 breakout sophomore campaign in which the club won the NL Pennant and the slugger led the senior circuit in hits, doubles, and runs scored.  Since that time, the Cardinals have only temporarily moved Carpenter from leadoff--once to the number two spot in the order for three months in 2015 and then to the three-hole for the opening two months of 2017.  However, both times Carpenter struggled to produce and was subsequently moved back to leadoff where he regained his hitting stroke.  Despite Carpenter's previous difficulties batting outside of the leadoff spot, the Cardinals opened 2018 with Carpenter hitting third in the order.  After getting off to a slow start, Carpenter was moved from the three-hole on April 20 and rotated between leadoff and the two spot for the next several weeks.  Carpenter's season hit a low point on May 15 when the Cards infielder sported an anemic .140/.286/.272 batting average/OBP/slugging percentage slash line.  Nevertheless, a couple games on the bench and starts as the number seven hitter seemed to revive the slugger's struggling bat.  Finally, on May 26 the club moved Carpenter back to leadoff where he remained for the duration of the season.

Following his career pattern, Carpenter excelled hitting leadoff and put himself among the league leaders in several categories and into the NL MVP conversation.  Carpenter's move back to the leadoff spot and resurgence from his horrendous early season slump largely coincided with the secret planting of a garden in the slugger's backyard by teammate Adam Wainwright and Wainwright's daughters while the St. Louis pitcher was on the disabled list and Carpenter and the Cardinals were on a road trip in early May.  From this garden, Carpenter started making his own spicy homemade salsa and as his bat heated up he began putting the salsa on most meals and taking jars of it on road trips.  As Carpenter slugged his way out of his early season slump, his seemingly salsa-fueled hot streak gained ample media coverage.  Soon, T-shirts bearing the inscription "It's Gotta Be the Salsa" and salsa jars with Carpenter's secret recipe were being sold with a portion of the proceeds going to St. Louis charities.

Overall, Carpenter made 115 starts as St. Louis' leadoff hitter while having his name written into the three-spot 17 times and being tapped as the number two batter for 15 games.  In addition to Carpenter, six of the other nine hitters to complete a double play-free campaign--McAuliffe, Henderson, Lankford, Nixon, Biggio, and Utley--were primarily batted leadoff in the season they achieved the rare feat.  By contrast, hitters batted in the heart of the order are much less likely to complete a season without grounding into a double play as a higher majority of their plate appearances come with runners on base.  In fact, only Reiser has been able to turn the trick while regularly batting in the heart of the order as he was hit out of the three-hole during his double play-free 1942 campaign.  Interestingly, the two other hitters to turn the trick, Watkins and Deer, regularly batted sixth--though Deer also saw a fair share of his plate appearances come from the five and seven spots along with a few from the eight hole.

GDP opps from double play-free year and career GDP rates

DPopp cGDP%
Watkins 50 6.4%
Reiser 148 3.3%
McAuliffe 78 6.7%
Deer 87 4.2%
Nixon 61 9.6%
Lankford 67 6.4%
Henderson 31 9.5%
Biggio 78 8.1%
Utley 61 6.2%
Carpenter 91 5.2%

Over the course of his 2018 campaign, Carpenter had 91 plate appearances in which there was an opportunity for the slugger to ground into a double play.  Carpenter's 91 opportunities rank second highest among the ten hitters to achieve the rare feat, trailing only Reiser's incredible total of 148.  Reiser's presence at the top of the leaderboard is not surprising, as he was the only one of the ten hitters regularly batted in the heart of the order.  With his 2018 season included, Carpenter's career average for grounding into a double play when he had the opportunity do so dropped from 6.1% to 5.2%.  Among the ten hitters, only Reiser and Deer have career marks lower than Carpenter's impressive 5.2%.  Despite not being recognized as a fast baserunner, Carpenter's 5.2% is well below the career averages of Henderson and Biggio--two Hall of Famers renowned for their speed on the basepaths and expertise at batting leadoff.  In 2018, the average major league hitter grounded into a double play just over ten percent of the time that they came up with the opportunity to do so.  Thus, a hitter with Carpenter's 91 double play opportunities on average would have grounded into a twin-kill nine times.

Carpenter's 36 home runs stand out in comparison to the other nine hitters who completed the double play-free campaign.  Although Deer, Lankford, and Utley all produced 30-home run seasons during their career, each of those three sluggers' round-tripper totals were well shy of Carpenter's 36 during the year they avoided the twin-kill.  Through May 15, Carpenter had gone deep just three times.  However, as Carpenter went on his seemingly salsa-fueled hot streak, the slugger put up mammoth home run totals and surged into the NL-longball lead late in the summer.  Unfortunately, Carpenter's early season struggles reared their ugly head again as he homered just once in September and was consequently caught and passed for the lead in the campaign's final days.

The majority of Carpenter's HRs came in clusters
The manner in which Carpenter put up his impressive home run total added an extra level of intrigue to his double-play free 2018.  In fact, Carpenter went on a home run tear each month of the season--save for the first and final months of the campaign--with the majority of his longballs coming in tightly-packed clusters of games.  Carpenter’s first cluster of home runs took place between May 26 and 29 when the Cards slugger went deep in three out of four games.  Then from June 15 to 21, Carpenter smacked five round-trippers over seven contests including three consecutive games in a row.  Carpenter’s most impressive home run barrage came in July when he crushed eight longballs in six games between the 14th and 21st.  During that stretch Carpenter became one of just 28 players to go deep in six straight games--two shy of the record of eight shared by Ken Griffey Jr., Don Mattingly, and Dale Long.  Carpenter's July longball barrage also included a three-home run game on the 20th.  Finally, between August 3 and 10, Carpenter had two separate streaks in which the slugger went yard in three consecutive games interrupted by just one homer-less game to give him six longballs over the seven-contest stretch.

By finishing the 2018 season without grounding into a double play, Carpenter became just the tenth hitter to accumulate enough plate appearances while avoiding the twin-kill for an entire campaign.  Although the most recent double play-free season prior to Carpenter's happened just two years ago, due to its overall rarity, it may be a while before the next player accomplishes the feat.  Moreover, nearly half of the double play-free seasons were achieved under special circumstances, underscoring its difficulty and exclusivity.  However, with the combination of his swing mechanics and ability to consistently avoid the twin-kill coupled with the Cardinals proclivity to bat the slugger leadoff, Carpenter has the potential to put together another double play-free campaign and be the first hitter to accomplish the rare feat twice.

----by John Tuberty

Follow non-salsa-fueled blog on Twitter @BloggerTubbs

Photo credit:  Matt Carpenter 2016 Topps, Matt Carpenter 2017 Topps BUNT, Matt Carpenter 2018 Topps Now

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