Chris Vernon Carter: Fantasy Baseball All-Or-Nothing

by Eno Sarris //

Search for Chris Carter on most baseball sites, and you’ll have two options. One plays backup outfield for the Mets and is known as the “Animal” for his sideline calisthenics and intense demeanor. The other, with “Vernon” as a secret first name, is an ever-smiling cuddly bear, with well-above-average power. He’s the one who was just called up on Monday, and he’s the one who is interesting for fantasy baseball owners, despite some notable flaws.

CarterGrab.jpgBefore this year, it might have been hard to figure out why Carter wasn’t in the major leagues yet. Going into 2010, he was 22 (which is neither too old nor too young to take seriously as a major-league-ready prospect), had a .290 career batting average in the minor leagues, had played in Double-A for consecutive seasons, and had amassed 92 home runs from 2007 to 2009. That is an impressive resume for any minor leaguer, and since the Athletics have been so power-starved in the major leagues, his callup seemed inevitable.

But the team knew better. The A’s promoted him to Triple-A instead of the majors late in 2009, and his .259/.293/.519 line showed he had something to learn (even though that line came in just 58 plate appearances). It’s the sort of news that should make a fantasy manager delve back into the numbers to figure out why the masher wasn’t mashing in the bigs.

With a critical eye, the reason jumps out at you. A 27% strikeout rate in the minor leagues is a big warning sign. Think back to our discussion of possible post-hype sleeper Chris Davis in the off-season, and you might remember that Davis was posting similar strikeout rates in the minor leagues before struggling in the majors. In fact, Davis’ 26.7% career minor league strikeout rate is eerily similar.

So is that it? Case closed? Carter = Davis, struggles to come? Well, in his first game in the bigs, it certainly seemed that way. Carter couldn’t lay off the outside slider and wound up striking out twice in two at-bats. And Davis even had a better batting average (.313) in the minor leagues. You could be forgiven for being concerned.

Not so fast. Davis, as we said, needs to walk more to get the Three True Outcomes thing down. Those three outcomes – walks, strikeouts and home runs – work well in tandem, but not so well if you are missing the walks or home runs. Davis’ walk rate in the minor leagues (8.3%) was passable, but when it inevitably dropped upon joining the big league squad (6.5%), he was a below-average batter. Carter’s 12.2% number in that category on the other hand can survive a drop and still be playable (8.6% is average this year).

Using MinorLeagueSplits.com to adjust Carter’s batting line for park
effects and luck, even his diminished Triple-A batting line looks great this
year: .298/.398/.600. Looking at his ISO, or isolated slugging
percentage, we can see that he has great power. His career minor league
ISO (.255) would place him seven spots above slugger Ryan Howard (.236
ISO) on the leaderboard this year. He may have some issues making
contact, but when he does, the ball could go a long way.

Vernon Christopher Carter smiles like Ryan Howard, and fantasy managers in long-term leagues should pick him up immediately and hope he can eventually play like the Phillies first baseman too. A warning, though: Carter’s contact issues, and the fact that he’s struggled to get going at new levels, mean that he might not be a great option in shallow mixed leagues.

For more on Vernon Christopher Carter and other big callups, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.

1 Comment

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