1/20/2014 10:19 A.M. ET
MLB Notebook: Carpenter joined rare company in '13
By Roger Schlueter / MLB.com
Before the 2013 campaign commenced, a look through the various accomplishments attained by players representing the St. Louis Cardinals would have revealed that the most recent player to lead the Majors in hits was third baseman Joe Torre, way back in his National League MVP Award-winning season in 1971 (Willie McGee, who started the 1990 season with the Cardinals but finished with the Athletics, also accomplished this, but we're eliminating him from consideration).
A similar glance through the leaderboards would have established that prior to 2013, first baseman Albert Pujols was the last Cardinals player to lead the Majors in runs scored (not so long ago, in 2010) and also the last Redbirds batter to pace the big leagues in doubles (as a left fielder/first baseman in 2003). In that stellar '03 campaign, Pujols topped the NL in all three of these referenced categories, but just fell short of holding top honors in the Majors in hits (while claiming an MLB runs title to go along with that doubles crown). Still, two out of three ain't bad: a refrain that could be echoed by fellow Cardinals Stan Musial (in 1943, '48, '49 and '52), Joe Medwick in '37, and Rogers Hornsby in '22.
In fact, no Cardinals player from 1901 (when the American League played its first season) through 2012 had ever paced both the NL and AL in runs, hits and doubles in the same season -- and then along came Matt Carpenter in 2013, who put his stamp on the Cardinals glorious history with a Major League-leading 126 runs scored, 199 hits, and 55 doubles (the 55 are the sixth-highest total ever for a second baseman).
Carpenter's dream season, outside the trio of leadership campaigns, also saw the third-year player post a 143 OPS+ (the highest for a Cardinals second baseman since Hornsby in 1925) and a 147 wRC+ (also the highest for any second baseman with St. Louis since Hornsby in '25), and compile the most extra-base hits for a second baseman in team history since Hornsby in 1925. This direct, numerical connection to the prolific and all-time great Hornsby would be enough in itself to elevate the appreciation for Carpenter's work in 2013: a year in which the 28-year-old climbed to levels very few (if any) anticipated. But it doesn't end there, for Carpenter -- like Hornsby -- is now one of the very few second basemen since 1901 to enjoy such a leading presence when it comes to hits, runs and doubles.
Dating back to that premiere American League season in 1901, only six second basemen before Carpenter had composed a year that concluded with top league marks in the three aforementioned categories. The list is short, the names are instantly identifiable, and the company is quite impressive.
In the case of Major League leadership in all three, Carpenter shoots past Dustin Pedroia, Charlie Gehringer and even Hornsby, linking to only Nap Lajoie in 1901, a season in which the competition in his league (the AL in that first year) was not nearly as strong as it would become, and thus diluting, to some degree, Napoleon's accomplishment. So in a sense, Carpenter stands alone, above Pedroia, who in just eight seasons, has captured an AL Rookie of the Year Award (2007), an AL MVP Award (in that 2008 season) and two World Series titles, along with three of the greatest second baseman of all-time, including the Mechanical Man, Gehringer.
As the second baseman for the 1929 Tigers, Gehringer mostly batting third for an offense that led the AL in runs, hits, doubles, triples, total bases, extra-base hits, batting average and slugging percentage, while he assumed leadership in prime offensive categories for the first time in his career. The 26-year-old, playing in his sixth Major League season, not only paced the AL in runs, hits and doubles, but also claimed leadership in triples (with 19) and stolen bases (with 27) while posting a 139 OPS+ that worked out to be the second best among American League second basemen, behind Tony Lazzeri's 159.
In an AL campaign that featured such icons as Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Babe Ruth, and Al Simmons, Gehringer's vast leadership in the league is something to behold. His 215 hits were the most for an AL second-sacker since Eddie Collins had 224 in 1920, and his 45 doubles were the most for the position in the AL since Lajoie accumulated 51 in '10. And as for adherence to that nickname, referencing Gehringer's uncanny consistency and methodical, almost metronome-like work on the diamond, that element was also in evidence during this spectacular 1929 campaign.
Whether home (where he posted a .958 OPS) or away (.924), it didn't seem to matter much to Gehringer, who also batted at least .327 in five of the six monthly splits for the season (he bottomed out with a .282 mark in July). Dividing the season into numerical halves (since the All-Star Game was still a few years away), Gehringer's two sections also displayed an admirable consistency, with a .960 OPS in the first half and a .918 mark in the second portion of the year (and the batting averages were even closer, with a .343 and a .336). As the saying went, "[You] wind him up on Opening Day and he runs on and on all season."
If Carpenter didn't display such enormous consistency in 2013, he wasn't too far off the mark, either. While he produced much bigger numbers at home (a .972 OPS at Busch Stadium vs. a .775 mark away from that ballpark), his first and second halves (interrupted by an All-Star Game appearance) were fairly close to one another, and his monthly splits, while not as tightly compacted as Gehringer's in 1929, did see him have three separate months of batting above .340.
After finishing the first half of the season with the second-most runs in the Majors, the ninth-most hits, and the fourth-most doubles, Carpenter had a second half that saw him score the most runs, collect the fourth-most hits, and produce the most doubles. That's one way of leading the Majors for the season in times crossing the plate, base knocks and two-base hits.
Before Carpenter, the last player to lead the AL and NL in runs, hits, and doubles in the same season was third baseman Pete Rose in 1976, and before the future hit king did it, such a feat had not been seen since the man Rose surpassed, outfielder Ty Cobb, did it in '11. And then there is Lajoie in 1901 to round out the club. Carpenter's season in 2013 was undeniably something special and whether or not one puts much stock into bundling leadership in three selected categories, the work by the Cardinals second baseman is sure to remain one of the signature elements of the season.
Roger Schlueter is senior researcher for MLB Productions. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.