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Monday's Starting Nine: Will the real Chris Carter please stand up?

Astros' slugger Chris Carter, better known as Trogdor, has turned his season around in a big way. Is Carter finally figuring it out, or is he just riding out a hot streak?

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

To say Chris Carter is hot right now is understatement. He literally is burninating the countryside that is MLB pitching. In his last 29 games, Carter is hitting .321/.379/.705 with 12 home runs, 30 RBIs and 34 strikeouts.

That span began on July 4. Carter's slash line on July 4: .182/.263/.401

Carter's slash line today: .226/.299/.497

The 27-year old is not going to keep up this pace, which is obvious. But it certainly seems that Carter's extra work with the Astros' hitting coach John Mallee has paid dividends. Give the Astros credit for staying with Carter despite his horrid first few months and are now reaping the rewards as Carter is providing essential production while Houston is without George Springer and Dexter Fowler.

Starting Nine question time:

Is the Chris Carter that we are seeing currently real or a mirage? What can the Astros expect from him in 2015?

Brian Stevenson

In terms of his current hot streak, no, this is probably not sustainable. In fact, I'd be willing to place a large wager that it's not. But he's also better than the horrible months he had in April and June that made virtually the entire fan base turn against him. It's all added up to a pretty reasonable season total line from him, currently. His walk rate is down, but his strike out rate is actually down nearly 5% this season as well. No, he's not a .300 average, 1.000 OPS hitter (as he has been for roughly the last month) moving forward. But a .225/.320/.500 line with 30 home runs from him is absolutely a reasonable expectation going forward, and that's a very solid piece in a lineup.

David Coleman

Heading into Sunday's game, Chris Carter was sixth in home runs in the American League. He's currently projected to his 33 home runs this season, according to ZiPS updated totals. That would be the most by an Astro hitter since Lance Berkman hit 34 in 2007.

By weighted Runs Created plus, Carter has been 23 percent better than the the league offensively. He's got the fifth-highest wRC+ of any designated hitter this season, higher than David Ortiz, Shin-Soo Choo, Billy Butler and Nick Swisher.

Despite his horrid offensive moments, Carter still has elite power. When he's hitting .230-.240, that makes him one of the best players at his position in the league. He doesn't need to hit like he has since July 1 to provide value. If he can find the comfortable middle between this hot streak and his sluggish start to the season, Carter will be one of the more valuable members of the offense (as he's been for the past two seasons).

Think about this. Carter's 123 wRC+ is 10 percent higher than Yoenis Cespedes. Yoenis Cespedes was the centerpiece in a deal for a top of the line starting pitcher. Cespedes can make flashy defensive plays, but has been below-average in the field over the past two seasons. So, his biggest plus as a player is that power, which led him to win the last two Home Run Derbies. 
Contracts played a big role in that deal, so the value isn't there. But, Carter's also got elite power and is more valuable than he showed in the season's first few months. While he's cheap, he's still a terrific value

Ernie Breakfast

Honestly this last crazy month is probably a mirage, but the change in his approach at the plate seems to be real.  It looks like he is comfortable with these recent changes, and therefore has been able to repeat them.  This has lead to more hits, more home runs, and less strikeouts. I don't think the current hot streak is sustainable, but what it has shown is a return on the potential that many thought he had.  It has also made him a more valuable part of the team as they move forward in the Process.  Who would have thought that in May?  The rest of this season will tell us more. If he can keep it going at a reasonable pace, I think in 2015 we will be looking at a guy that is hitting closer to .250 than .200, with 30+ home runs, and the Astros will have the DH position nailed down with a good, young power hitter.  (But we can all dream that he will be a .300 hitter who makes a regular habit of hitting 2 bombs a night, right?)

David Spradley

He's on a hot streak, for sure, if he hit like this on a consistent basis we would be talking about things like MVP awards. It's not a mirage per se, just his performance evening out over his bad first half. He's cut down on his strikeouts though and if he can continue to keep that up then he will be much more consistent as a productive hitter. 

In 2015? I kind of half expect him to be traded if he's hot around the trading deadline, a la Kike Hernandez. 
He's in his prime as a hitter so we shouldn't really expect him to do anything he hasn't already done after next year. It will be interesting to see how the front office values him at that point, and how other teams would value his power. I would expect 30 home runs and a modest improvement over his .222/.312/.459 career line. 


Real. Of course, we can't judge Carter based only on the last month any more than we can dismiss his abilities based on a cold April and May.  But we are seeing the "real" Carter because he is headed toward a final season outcome which is right in line with projections.  He has a 123 wRC+ and the projections by ZIPS and Steamer were 121 and 117.  Carter's x-BABIP during that cold start foreshadowed what we are seeing now. Given that Carter is approaching the typical age for peak performance, I think the odds are decent that Carter will improve on his current performance in 2015.  If Carter gets in a consistent groove and has a lot of luck, it's not outside
of reason that he could have a big season like Chris Davis' 2013 (wRC+ of 168).  I'm not saying it's likely, but just pointing out the parallels with a slugger like Davis when everything goes his way.  (And by the way, Davis'
current wRC+ of 92 underscores how fleeting a break out can be.)  Carter most likely won't be a MVP, but a wRC+ in the 130 range wouldn't surprise me.

Chris Perry

This is probably going to strike regular readers as the most "Un-Chris-Like" answer ever.  The Chris Carter we've seen in July and August is almost completely for real.  No, he won't sustain a .308 batting average - his BABIP is high (but not REAL high considering his .285 career BABIP), and he still is striking out a bit under 30% of the time. 

My answer is based not on the numbers, but rather on what my eyes are telling me.  At the beginning of the season (where he was arguably one of the worst regulars in baseball), Carter had a long swing, it looked like he wasn't keeping his eye on the ball, and I repeatedly said that his swing was "all arms".  But since he was benched for an intensive session with the hitting coach just before July, he has looked like a completely different hitter.  He keeps his front side closed as he brings the bat around, and he keeps his elbows in to keep his swing short.  The result is his bat is staying in the strike zone longer, allowing for fine adjustments mid-swing.  His overall contact rate is still just shy of 70%, but that still feels like an improvement.  More importantly, his contact rate on pitches in the zone is significantly up, and we all know what Carter can do when he makes contact on pitches in the zone.

I'll go ahead and make the boldest prediction of my blogging life:  In 2015, provided his swing doesn't revert, Carter will hit .250/.350/.530 or better with 45 bombs and will finish in the top 5 of AL MVP voting.

Matthew Hall

Is this the 'real' Chris Carter? My answer is 'yes, no and maybe'.

No: he's probably not going to maintain his current success over long stretches.

Yes: His season-long stats should wind up being consistent with projections.

Maybe: Will the future Carter be this volatile? His season has been a Jekyll and Hyde dichotomy, with the first section being horrific and fantastic since.

Will the future Carter have softer ups and downs? If not, what does that mean? Are the ups worth the downs?

Spencer Morris (answers taken from three separate e-mails)

1. His season numbers will be what you can expect, I'd say. He's a .230, 30 HR guy. What I would like to see is the walk rate coming back up.

2. It is entirely possible that Carter has a Chris Davis-esque year with a substantial amount of luck. Power hitters are weird that way, and Carter has a big slow swing but he DOES have some pretty underrated feel for hitting that doesn't always show as a result of that. 


Perry Mattern

Carter's 2012 numbers with the A's: .239/.350/.514 with a pace for 38 homers in 162 games. That slash line is somewhat in between Carter's 2014 season line and the current tear he is on. That seems just about right.

If he can finish this season solidly and the Astros continue to build a solid lineup around him (an underrated factor in his success) he can be extremely productive for the price that the Astros will have to pay. The man has easy power, that is almost unrivaled in the game today and Houston needs to see his progression through.