All he does is hit home runs.
That was the book on the Astros' Chris Carter up until the second half of last season. After hitting 19 homers with just a .205 average and .281 on-base percentage prior to the All-Star break, Carter exploded for a .252/.338/.521 batting line and 18 homers in 269 second-half trips. The 52-point jump in OBP was buoyed by a four percent increase in walk rate between halves (from 7.9% to 11.9%), and he also shaved nearly two percent off his strikeout rate.
Carter also improved his line drive rate by nearly five percent in the second half (from 19.4% to 24.0%) while also seeing a slight increase in his HR/FB rate. He came through in the clutch on several occasions in August, smacking go-ahead moonshots into the night sky. Check a couple out for yourself.
The question is, though, how much should you buy into the second-half growth? Some will advise you to fade second-half performers, but were the changes Carter made sustainable? The fact of the matter is, there will always be a lot of swing and miss in Carter's game – he owns a 65.3% contact rate and 33.6% strikeout rate for his career – but there's a chance the improvement he showed controlling the strike zone in the second half could result in a career-best batting average in 2015. He hasn't hit above .240 in any of his five major league seasons.
I'm not saying Carter's a good bet to hit close to .250, but I'm buying in to his post-All-Star break improvements to a large extent. It appears as though I'm in the minority. Let's take a look at our projections for Carter and compare them to those from a couple other projection systems.
RotoWire projection: .235/.323/.483 with 35 home runs, 89 RBI, 70 runs, three stolen bases (six attempts) and a 66:201 BB:K in 152 (601 PA).
Steamer projection: .223/.311/.455 with 33 home runs, 84 RBI, 75 runs, four stolen bases (six attempts) and a 65:195 BB:K in 143 games (608 PA).
Fans projection: .229/.314/.455 with 32 home runs, 90 RBI, 80 runs, four stolen bases (five attempts) and a 63:184 BB:K in 139 games (596 PA).
Steamer and Fans seem to think Carter will go back to his low on-base ways, with both predicting he will fall short of his three-year average OBP (.320). Meanwhile, our projections suggest he will improve his overall average and on-base to a degree, but not to a level really close to his second-half numbers. All three systems agree Carter will hit 30-plus homers, drive in 80 or more runs and score at least 70 times. In an age when power is at a premium – 11 players hit 30 or more home runs last season – those numbers would be highly useful even if his average fails to improve much.
Let's imagine Carter hits his estimates from Fans, reaching 30 homers, 90 RBI and 80 runs. That seems to be the ceiling for Carter's 2015, but it's by no means unrealistic, with both RotoWire and Steamer projecting him to come close in all three categories. Only six players reached those levels in all three statistical categories last season; Mike Trout (36 HR, 111 RBI, 115 R), Giancarlo Stanton (37 HR, 105 RBI, 89 runs), Jose Bautista (35 HR, 103 RBI, 101 R), Jose Abreu (36 HR, 107 RBI, 80 R), Victor Martinez (32 HR, 103 RBI, 87 R) and Nelson Cruz (40 HR, 108 RBI, 87 R).
Of those six players, two are being routinely taken in the top five in NFBC drafts (Trout and Stanton), three are going in the top seven (Trout, Stanton and Abreu), and four are going inside the top 12 (Trout, Stanton, Abreu and Bautista). Martinez saw his stock fall as a result of the knee injury, but his ADP is still within the top 40 (39.76) – it admittedly figures to fall at least a bit – and Cruz is going around pick 60 on average. Carter currently has an ADP of 122.24. Of course, all six players that did it last year hit at least .271, but I digress.
Carter only qualifying at DH in a lot of leagues probably has a lot to do with his ADP – he made 14 appearances at first base last season – as well as his expected low average. Personally, I think the position eligibility is overblown. The average is definitely a concern, but the expected contributions in home runs, RBI and runs should bump Carter well within the top 100 in my opinion. If he were to hit even .240-.245, Carter could be a top-50 player.