Two months ago Matt Carpenter, 36, was working with Rangers’ Triple-A affiliate, the Round Rock Express, wondering if he had played his last Major League game yet. Carpenter has spent the past offseason rebuilding his swing, looking to get back to the big leagues. He got help from Joey Votto, Matt Holliday, a baseball performance lab and a new bat in an effort to add loft to his swing and keep the barrel in the zone longer.

Carpenter told The Athletic in February that he was more confident in his swing than he had “in years, maybe ever”.

But he hasn’t quite cracked Texas’ Major League roster this spring. Hopes that he could return to the 2018 36-homerun version of himself were fading. Like so many other players before him, age, it seemed, had caught up with him.

When Carpenter was released in mid-May, only one team offered the longtime Cardinal a Major League berth: the Yankees, who were on pace with one of their best seasons in league history. franchise.

Now out of nowhere, the former MVP and All-Star contender has been among baseball’s best hitters for the past month and a half, and a driving force behind an offense that is among the Majors’ best.

After Carpenter joined the Yankees in late May, he had a Barry Bonds-style .469 on-base percentage and .911 slugging percentage in the first half of the season. His 13 home runs from his May 26 debut through the All-Star Break are tied for sixth most in baseball over that span — and he’s done it in about half the beats of those above him. He hit a home run every 6.1 at bats. Its hard hit rate (48.2%), its barrel rate (19.6%) and its average. the exit speed (91.8 mph) would all be career highs.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Carpenter is only the seventh Major League player since 1900 to hit at least 13 home runs in his first 30 games for a club.

“I’m at a loss for words,” Carpenter said after a two-home run night against the Red Sox on July 16. to be here with this group of guys and come to the stadium every day. I am delighted to be part of it. To be able to play the way I play and the way our team plays every night is great fun.

Carpenter’s excellence is perhaps the most surprising development of the first half of 2022. But how the hell does he do it?

Carpenter hits the ball harder than ever, no doubt. But where it hits, it could be even more important.

Every time a batter heads for home plate, they are looking to hit a line drive or fly ball. This is where the hits and extra home runs come from. Batters are also much more successful when hitting the ball on their firing side. The pasta is hit .330 with a 165 wRC+ when they shoot the ball this season. This drops to .317 and a 114 wRC+ by hitting the ball in the middle or towards the opposite court. If you’re a hitter, why not just try to get the ball in the air on the pull side every time?

It looks like Carpenter is trying to do just that. A whopping 46.4% of Carpenter’s batted balls were either a fielded ball or line drive. No other batter with at least 50 batts is above 32.2 percent this season. No skilled hitter finished with a Pulled FB/LD rate over 30% over a full season during the Statcast era. Carpenter is truly in uncharted territory.

Also consider where Carpenter lives now. Yankee Stadium is a haven for left-handed hitters. He’s taken full advantage of it — hitting eight home runs on the park’s short right-field porch so far. For the most part, however, Carpenter earned his success. Only one of his homers is truly a product of Yankee Stadium — a three-run homer by Red Sox reliever Darwinzon Hernandez on July 16 that wouldn’t have gone over the Bronx wall. Otherwise, seven of his 13 long balls have been “no doubt”. In other words, a home run in every baseball park.

Whether it’s his age, those around him in the mighty Yankees roster, or something else, pitchers have been more eager to challenge Carpenter than in the past (at least for now), and he’s taken advantage of it.

Pitchers attack the strike zone against Carpenter like never before. The 12-year-old veteran saw a career-high 53.5% shots in the strike zone (Zone%). Carpenter never had zone rate above 49.7% in his career. But it’s where those lands were in the strike zone that makes Carpenter thrive.

10.5% of the pitches Carpenter saw were in the “meatball” zone, or right in the middle of the plate. This figure would be complete all qualifications this season and is 3.5 percentage points higher than the next highest season of his career. The throwers threw towards the “heart” area, which, similar to a meatball, is throws at least one baseball width inside the edge of the zone, against Carpenter more than a third of the time (33.4%). Who would be too lead all qualified hitters.

Carpenter made good use of these opportunities. He swings more than ever on meatball lands (81.6% of the time). He’s batting .474 with seven of his 13 homers off the court in the heart of the zone. According to Baseball Savant’s swing/take run values, Carpenter already has +7 runs on pitches in the heart of the zone, which is tied for the 25th in baseball This year. Again, he did it in just 95 plate appearances. Take a look at the location of the Carpenter Circuits pitch this season.

Pitchers would be wise to approach Carpenter as if he were hitting again in the middle of the St. Louis Cardinals lineup. Until then, he’ll continue to smash the easier-to-hit pitches.

From 2012 to 2018, Carpenter was among baseball’s best hitters against fastballs. As recently as 2018, he hit .291 with 25 homers on fastballs. That ability disappeared in 2020 and 2021. In those two seasons, Carpenter hit just .214 with five homers on 196 at-bats that ended on fastballs. After a career of feasting on radiators, Carpenter, it seemed, just couldn’t keep up with them.

Well, he crushes them again this year. Carpenter has eight homers against fastballs so far and is worth +11 points against four-seam players, which is tied for eighth in baseball with his teammate Aaron Judge, despite the absence of the first month and a half. His .378 batting average against fastballs would be the highest of his career. Carpenter swings and misses just 19.7% of them, which would be his lowest since his dominant season in 2018.

But there’s reason to believe Carpenter can still struggle with elite speed. His fastball success this season has come, for the most part, against radiators below 95 mph.

Carpenter hit just .231 (3 for 13) with no homers against 95 mph-plus pitches. In contrast, he hit .438 (14 for 32) with eight home runs against fastballs below 95 mph. Fourteen of his 28 hits came against the latter.

It goes without saying that Carpenter will return to earth. But you can shout small sample size all you want, it’s still been an incredible summer for the 36-year-old. If he doesn’t take another at bat all season, the Yankees still got more than they bargained for and more. Carpenter is one of the most amazing comeback stories in recent baseball history, no matter how it ends.

And in the twilight of his career, the 36-year-old is enjoying every second of it.

“When I was sitting on that couch, I thought, ‘This could be it,'” Carpenter told MLB.com on July 16. “I didn’t know when I was going to have a chance, if I was going to have a chance, to play again. That’s part of why it’s been so fun to be here, because it’s like a new breath of life. life.