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On the Astros: How much contact is Chris Carter making at the plate?

The prodigious slugger leads the team in homers, but also is one of the league leaders in strikeouts. Has he improved his game any since the beginning of the season or last year?


Chris Carter has a lot of things going for him. He's got a very powerful swing. He's got a super-cool nickname. He's still relatively young.

But, oh, those strikeouts. And the defense.

Though Chris Carter has had problems making contact all season, in June, he's been doing it a lot more consistently. Since the beginning of this month, Carter is hitting .261/.346/.580 with seven doubles and five home runs. That raised his averages all the way up to .233/.317/.466, which means he hasn't been great still and a single month isn't a lot to make assumptions about.

Still, the strikeouts are worrisome. Will Carter ever be able to make contact consistently enough to succeed in the majors?

There are three areas where we can see hints of progress or regression in Carter's swing. The first is in his strikeout rate. It started at an unsustainable 42 percent in April and hasn't dropped much. Carter is still striking out 37 percent of the time, though that rate dropped to 32 percent in May and 35 percent in June.

That's still higher than his career K rate of 34 percent and about five percent higher than his rate was last season with Oakland. Can a player succeed while striking out 30 percent of the time? Probably, but it leaves very little room for error in his game.

There are two reasons why Carter may be striking out more. The first is he's seeing more sliders this season. Pitchers are throwing him fastballs about the same percent of the time this year, but the biggest switch in his pitch profile has been that pitchers are avoiding throwing him curves and tying him up with sliders instead. That tracks with the scouting report on him, as he has hit curves pretty well in his career while struggling with the slider.

The other change that he seems to have made is watching more pitches on 3-2 counts. While we're straying into pretty small sample size countryre, thanks to Texas Leaguers Pitch F/X data, we can see exactly how often he swings at pitches on 3-2 counts.

By far, the most frequent pitch he sees on those counts is a slider. That falls into line with what we saw a moment ago, where pitchers are throwing him more sliders this season. The second most common pitch has been the four-seam fastball. Pitchers are throwing those for strikes 73 percent of the time on 3-2 counts, but Carter is swinging at just 47 percent of those pitches.

That's the biggest dip in swing rate and strike rate of all the pitches he sees on 3-2 counts, which suggests a change in his approach when you look at what he did last season. Then, he saw four-seam fastballs most frequently on 3-2 counts and pitchers threw them for a strike 65 percent of the time. Carter swung at those 57 percent of the time.

Have pitchers adapted to his taking ways on full-count fastballs, thus upping the percentage of strikes he sees in those count?

It's curious only because Carter has looked like he's improving in other areas at the plate. While he's still swinging through about 15 percent of the time, Carter has gotten more selective in other areas. He's swinging out of the zone less and making more contact in the zone. His numbers there aren't great, but the rest of his plate discipline data looks to be in line with the rest of his career.

That also suggest he should see his walk rate rise from where it's at now. After seeing walk rates around 12-14 percent in previous seasons, Carter's rate is down to 10 percent this season. Couple that with a higher K rate and he looks like he's been less disciplined at the plate.

The power is still there, though, and lately he's been driving the ball to the opposite field, both for doubles and home runs. If he keeps that up and sees a rise in his walk rate, Carter could be exactly the player Houston's front office expected to get from Oakland in the first place.