One of the biggest stories emerging from the Detroit Tigers farm system is an offensive explosion by Kerry Carpenter. He was a virtual unknown outside of the Tiger prospect hounds before the year, but has started to make himself an unavoidable name to know for all Double-A pitchers and anyone cheering for the Tigers.
We’re getting to the point where early in the season isn’t a crutch to use against potential breakouts, which means those who have performed to a high level to this point in the year need a serious look. Carpenter fits that mold, hitting .345 with 14 homeruns through nearly 150 ABs this year.
Thanks to our friends at Tigers Minor League Report who spoke with Erie manager Gabe Alvarez, we do know that Carpenter made changes to his swing that’ve helped him to outperform just about everything he’s done in the past from an offensive standpoint.
We have been getting a lot of questions about outfielder Kerry Carpenter. Here’s @erie_seawolves manager Gabe Alvarez talking about the off-season change that Carpenter did on his swing. An article to come shortly. pic.twitter.com/7eERHoZLhA— Tigers Minor League Report (@tigersMLreport) May 21, 2022
This conversation is expanded upon by Rogelio Castillo in his live looks reaction piece following the series.
Before diving into the nitty gritty of potentially how Carpenter has achieved extra loft in his swing, it’s important to look at the results. There are some eye popping differences in power output, but just hitting more homeruns doesn’t tell the full story.
For starters, yes, Carpenter already has 15 homeruns this year which matches his career high from last season. He’s also walking and striking out more, but with 150 ABs compared to 400 ABs from last season, it’s still more of a noteworthy mention than any evidence of change to approach. Although his 28.5 percent strikeout rate is arguably the biggest deterrent to his value.
When the word ‘loft’ is used, usually that would imply more flyballs because the swing is resulting in more lift on the ball. So far, that isn’t the case with Carpenter. He’s hitting flyballs at the same pace, even about one percent less, than he has in the last couple of seasons. The loft is showing itself more in an improved line drive rate which is up about 7 percent from last year. He’s cut down on hitting the ball on the ground more than anything, which he did at a 39.3 percent clip last year vs. 33.3 percent this year.
All of this has somehow resulted in one heck of a power surge from the Erie outfielder. He’s slashing .345/.405/.718 and is worth a whopping 201 wRC+. Too early or not, he’s making a statement to start the 2022 season.
Adding loft is not an exact science and neither is changing a swing. There are several ways to try and access more power, or lift the ball more, or any number of desired outcomes. So, I scoured the world for any swing of Kerry Carpenter from last couple years I could find to see if I could figure out what looks different. Unfortunately I was unable to get to the MiLB TV archives, so there’s not much from 2021 which makes it harder to definitively say anything. However, there was one potential difference to take note of.
For starters here are two swings with similar results, similar pitch location and as similar velocity as I could find. Both were home runs to the pull side on the inside part of the plate.
First the 2021 swing from August of last year.
And the 2022 homerun from May 19th.
Kerry Carpenter blasts his 9th home run of the season to retake the organizational lead from Kody Clemens and put Erie up 5-0. pic.twitter.com/QGvMoPvoFr— Tigers Minor League Report (@tigersMLreport) May 20, 2022
Those swings are eerily similar and I don’t just say that because of the uniform he’s wearing. There’s no change in the load mechanism, he’s compact to the ball, even the setup looks pretty much the same. Maybe he’s standing a little taller this year, but nothing incredibly vital to supplying more power.
Slowing it down, there was one very subtle difference in these two swings. It appears to me that he’s keeping his hand back just a split second longer once his swing starts before letting them go. He also looks more balanced with weight on his back half as he’s prepares to launch his hands. This moment tells the story:
In both swings you can see that his lower half is already in the swing process while his upper half is just about ready to join in. That’s known as hip-shoulder separation and it’s one key to generating power. It’s like the concept for a rubber band being stretched tightly until it’s let go; that’s what’s happening with his upper half as it prepares to start swinging. Carpenter doesn’t create outlier levels of separation, but enough to see that he generates some power from it. Famous recent examples of insane separation creation are prospect Brady House and superstar shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr.
There are a few notable differences in posture, balance, and even his front elbow, but the first part of the swing I notice is his hands. It’s not a massive difference, but it would appear his hands stay back just a little longer which would mean more power generated from the separation. With more swings to compare the hands staying back could be corroborated, but for now it’s more of a working theory.
The balance in that swing is pretty clear. He’s much more on his backside prior to starting his swing. With more balance he’s able to more consistently put his barrel on the ball. Or bare minimum, just put a good swing on the pitch. His staying back is another reason what it looks like he’s standing taller. The body itself is in pretty much the same position, but he looks taller because of how his weight is distributed.
The next part of the scientific method is to repeat the process and see if I get the same result. Two issues arise there and that is access to video from last season, which I will continue to work at getting, and the other issue is that I’m not the best at science.
Putting It All Together
Carpenter is on a warpath trying to prove that he eventually belongs on the Detroit Tigers roster. His manager thinks that day is going to come. With the massive jump in power output and some tangible changes to support it, there’s reason to believe in what’s going on.
There are some lingering questions surrounding his strikeout rate and his defensive home. He doesn’t get high marks for his defensive abilities, so he might be stuck to a left field/DH type role as a ceiling. He could also be a fourth outfielder type. Suffice it to say that any value he may provide is tied to him hitting and hitting for power.
His strikeout rate is up this year by about eight percent. There is some more swing and miss as he tries to tap into more power. Whether that’s a long term effect or not has yet to be seen. For my money it seems like he’s being a little more patient and seeing more pitches, which could also be a factor. Whatever the case may be, he has a high strikeout rate. Maybe approach tweaks could help or maybe he’s still getting used to the new swing.
One thing is for sure, over the first 40, or so, games of the MiLB season, Kerry Carpenter has been one of the more interesting minor league developments for the Detroit Tigers. It’s clear changes have been made and those changes have Carpenter’s stock trending upward. We’re not ready to expect any major league success as there’s still too many strikeouts and minimal walks, but he’s certainly worked his way onto the Tigers prospect radar.