Mike Carp is on fire, but don’t expect it to last

Aug 17, 2011, 1:49 PM | Updated: 1:59 pm

By Dave Cameron
Special to 710Sports.com

Over the last month of the season, the Mariners offense has actually been pretty decent — something we haven’t been able to say for a few years. The main reason the team has started scoring runs? The revelation that has been Mike Carp.

Over the last 30 days, Carp is hitting .376/.411/.634, the kind of pace that would win him an MVP award if he could keep it up over a full season. Certainly, Carp’s surge since coming back from Tacoma has been one of the brightest spots of the second half, but as the team plans for what holes they will need to fill this winter, they also need to be aware that Carp’s success is built on something of a house of cards.

In the span of the last month where Carp has been so good, he’s racked up a Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP, for short) of .444. Essentially, when he’s hit a ball that the defense has theoretically had a chance to make a play on, four out of nine times, it’s found a hole or a gap. Some of that is because Carp is hitting the ball really hard lately, but some of that is just good fortune.

Mike Carp is hitting .376 over the last month, but his .444 batting average on balls in play over that stretch suggests that he’s unlikely to sustain such a torrid pace. (AP)

We’ve all seen guys hit a line drive right at someone, and then the next guy hit a little broken-bat flare that falls in no-man’s-land for a hit. That’s baseball. Good hitters hit the ball hard as often as possible, but they don’t have complete control over where it goes. Sometimes, you get a good run and everything falls in. Mike Carp is currently on one of those good runs.

The problem is that they don’t last. To put Carp’s BABIP in perspective, the current Major League leader in that category is Adrian Gonzalez at .387, and he has the luxury of using The Green Monster as his personal hit producing machine. Looking at it from an even bigger picture, the highest sustained BABIP since the start of 2009 is Joey Votto at .365. He hits the ball harder than anyone in the game, and even he can’t find holes with the frequency that Carp has been able to over the last month.

It’s just inevitable that the balls Carp is getting hits on now will eventually start finding opponents’ gloves with more frequency, and when that happens, a decent amount of air is going to come out of his overall batting line. Put simply, a guy who strikes out in 25 percent of his plate appearances can’t keep hitting .376, and he probably can’t even hit .300.

When you look at the more stable aspects of Carp’s game (his walk rate, his strikeout rate, and his power), the total picture is a guy who can probably do a pretty decent impression of Adam LaRoche — a nice solid average player, but not a star.

Now, there’s definitely nothing wrong with having a 25-year-old average-ish player making the league minimum on the roster. Those guys are valuable, and they help you allocate your payroll elsewhere. The problem, though, is that Carp’s only role on the 2012 roster is probably to serve as DH, and if the team is also committed to giving continued looks to Justin Smoak and Casper Wells (as they should be), then LF, 1B, and DH are all going to be filled by players with somewhat limited upsides. None of those three are likely to turn into premium star hitters, leaving third base as the team’s only real open position to pursue a significant offensive upgrade.

Carp’s performance has been terrific, no doubt, but the organization needs to be realistic in their assessment of what he is going forward. A good month with balls falling in left and right shouldn’t change our assessment of Carp’s future too much. The power he’s shown lately is encouraging, and he can help the 2012 Mariners, but if the team sees a chance to acquire a better option for DH going forward, they shouldn’t let Mike Carp stand in their way.

Dave Cameron of U.S.S Mariner writes biweekly for Brock & Salk’s blog on 710Sports.com.

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