/Matt Carpenter’s rebuilt Yankees swing came with the help of ‘new eyes’

Matt Carpenter’s rebuilt Yankees swing came with the help of ‘new eyes’

MINNEAPOLIS — A season ago, his last in St. Louis, Matt Carpenter hit three home runs in 249 plate appearances. And in 2020, Carpenter went deep four times in 50 games. 

The player who hit a career-high 36 homers in 2018 seemed to be gone, and it led the Cardinals to decline Carpenter’s $18.5 million option for this season, making him a free agent. 

Now, less than two weeks after signing with the Yankees, Carpenter seemingly has regained the power stroke that helped him become a three-time All-Star with the Cardinals. 

In his first eight games with the Yankees, Carpenter hit four home runs and walked four times, looking nothing like the lost hitter he’d been the last few years in St. Louis. 

“The easiest way to describe it is that for two years, I just pushed the ball,’’ Carpenter said. “There was no snap to it, no drive. The front office people [in St. Louis] just thought I was losing ability, but I knew it wasn’t that.” 

Though not heavily into analytics, Carpenter said all his strength numbers were good. 

“I knew something was going on with my swing,” Carpenter said. “It wasn’t a physical thing. It was mechanical.” 

Matt Carpenter homers against the Angels on May 31. 2022.
Matt Carpenter homers against the Angels on May 31. 2022.
Charles Wenzelberg / New York Po

Carpenter said he doesn’t blame Cardinals hitting coach Jeff Albert, saying they worked closely together to try to get Carpenter back on track, but he needed “new eyes on me.” 

“I didn’t really have a choice,’’ Carpenter said of his offseason overhaul. “I knew I had to do this if I wanted to keep playing. It’s not that we weren’t trying to do it in St. Louis. For whatever reason, I wasn’t able to find it there and I needed to seek guidance elsewhere.” 

He spent the next few months trying to fix that mechanical issue, speaking with Cincinnati’s Joey Votto, a longtime opponent in the NL Central who had seen his production dip before a resurgence in 2021. 

Matt Carpenter celebrates with Yankees teammates
Matt Carpenter celebrates with Yankees teammates
Corey Sipkin

Carpenter also worked with a lab hired by his bat company, Marucci, to find a new model better suited to his swing and also sought advice from Tim Laker — now the Dodgers minor league hitting coordinator — and Craig Wallenbrock, the hitting instructor who helped J.D. Martinez remake his swing. 

Spending several days at each place in an effort to regain his stroke, Carpenter made his last stop in Stillwater, Oklahoma. That’s where he put the finishing touches on his approach with former Cardinals teammate Matt Holliday, now a volunteer assistant at Oklahoma State. 

The two had remained close after Holliday left St. Louis for the Yankees in 2017. After Holliday retired following a 2018 season spent with the Rockies, he joined his brother, Josh, the head coach at Oklahoma State. 

Matt Carpenter (right) and Matt Holliday with the Cardinals in 2014
Matt Carpenter (right) and Matt Holliday with the Cardinals in 2014
Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty

Carpenter, who lives in Fort Worth, Texas, texted Holliday to see whether he could see him at the school to look at his swing. Holliday accepted. 

Even before that conversation, Holliday had seen Carpenter’s swing devolve. 

“Just watching on TV, his front hip was leaving early, which was pulling him out and around even inside pitches,’’ Holliday said. “He was missing under pitches that were middle-away and then balls that were in, he was hooking a little too much. As a friend and someone who likes hitting, I told him, ‘This is what I see’ and we talked about hitting and why his average on balls out over the plate had gone down and why he was getting under balls and striking out more than he ever had.’’ 

In addition to talking, Carpenter and Holliday, in his third year coaching at Oklahoma State, worked on tee drills and in the batting cage several days in a row. 

“That’s when it all came together,’’ Carpenter said. “Every guy I hit with, from Laker to Wallenbrock and all the stops along the way had an impact,’’ Carpenter said. “But that week at OSU at the end of the offseason, I felt everything sync up. It’s weird, because I felt I had found what I was looking for, but it was what I’d had and what I’d lost. Now, I feel like my swing is back, my bat is good and I can hit the ball the way I want to hit it.” 

“After a few days, there was a different sound off the bat and the ball was traveling much better,” Holliday said. “He was getting carry on the ball with different spin and it was more true.’’ 

Matt Carpenter celebrates as he rounds the bases
Matt Carpenter celebrates as he rounds the bases
AP

Carpenter said he turned down some major league offers, choosing instead to sign a minor league deal with the Rangers. 

“It was close to home, and even though I had other guaranteed deals, I wanted to earn this,’’ said Carpenter, who had six homers and an OPS of .991 in 21 games with Triple-A Round Rock. 

“I didn’t want to just take $2 million from whoever and go struggle again. This has been more rewarding. I went to Triple-A, swung the bat really well and ended up asking for my release.” 

He had a conversation with Texas general manager Chris Young, who agreed to grant Carpenter his release last month for a chance to play in the majors. 

That led to a call from the Yankees, who were interested before Josh Donaldson and Giancarlo Stanton went down with injuries

Now that both sluggers have returned, the lefty-swinging Carpenter may have a more difficult time getting at-bats, but the Yankees believe there is still space for Carpenter on the roster. 

“For me, just the opportunity alone was worth it, even if it was just for 10 days,’’ Carpenter said. “With the confidence I have in my swing, I think I can have an impact. And with where I’m at in my career, I’m just grateful to be here. I’m gonna enjoy every at-bat and every moment.”