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Mike Carp And Left Field


I've been sitting on this topic for a few days. It occurred to me not long ago that this is something I should probably write about. When the Mariners traded for Mike Carp, he was a first baseman. We all assumed he would be a first baseman, or a DH. Now he's an outfielder. Mike Carp didn't only play left field in 2011 - according to Eric Wedge's words, and according to the roster picture, he's going to play a lot of left field in 2012. Casper Wells is probably going to play a lot of left field in 2012, too, but there will be Carp. Plenty of Carp.

Ordinarily, what happens when I have a writing topic in mind for a number of days is that the post starts to take form in my head. The gears whirr, and an outline develops. I come up with the right intro. I come up with the right body of evidence. I come up with a snappy conclusion or something. That didn't happen here. I came up with this intro. As for the rest, well, you'll see the rest.

The idea of Mike Carp in left field is not a particularly pleasant one at first, at least relative to what one would like in left field. As we've been talking about for years, left field defense in Safeco might actually be more important than left field defense in most other parks. Carp was a first baseman before he was an outfielder. That's usually a bad sign. Carp was never thought to be gifted in the field, and that was at an easier position.

It's true that Carp isn't quite the schlub that he used to be. Before last season, he whipped himself into magnificent shape. It's all anybody wanted to talk about. He's still in good shape now. Maybe better shape. I saw him last week and he looked a hell of a lot more fit than I am, and I'm a professional baseball blogger. These are pretty high standards.

But outfield defense isn't just about the shape that you're in. It relies on instincts. I don't know much about Carp's outfield instincts. It relies on experience. Carp has fair but limited outfield experience. It relies on footspeed. Carp, even now, does not have very good footspeed. His career high for steals is six. His career high for triples is two. Also, look at him run. He's not a burner.

I spent a little time going through Carp's video highlights. His defensive highlights. I wanted to see if anything would stand out to me. Then I realized it's not fair to just look at a guy's video highlights. A guy's video highlights will make him look better than he is, because they generally capture his best plays. There isn't a video highlight for "Mike Carp watches double bounce ten feet away." Carp did make a handful of full-extension diving catches. Those are always a kick, and not to be completely ignored.

The name I keep coming back to, for whatever reason, is Logan Morrison. Trust me, this is unscientific. It's basically a gut feeling if you want to go ahead and ignore this whole paragraph. Morrison was a first baseman. He became an outfielder. He does not seem to be a very good outfielder at all. Defensive stats and everything, yeah, and none of us regularly watches the Marlins because nobody regularly watches the Marlins. But I have to believe that Logan Morrison, as a defensive left fielder, is pretty far below average.

Of course, take a guy like Josh Willingham. Willingham was a lot of things, but he was a catcher before he was an outfielder. He seems to have become an acceptable defensive outfielder. There are cases where these guys work out okay, and there are cases where these guys work out less okay.

I don't think that Mike Carp, in left field, is a defensive disaster. I don't think that Mike Carp in left field is completely unworkable. Remember how long the Mariners kept Raul Ibanez in left field. The Mariners are clearly very open to giving Carp a lot of ground to cover on a pretty frequent basis.

Carp will probably be below average. It would be a minor miracle if he were not. He was a first baseman. What remains to be seen is how far below average he is. He could be a little below average, or he could be unacceptably below average. And here's the convenient thing - if the Mariners were looking to contend, I'd be wary about the prospect of Carp in left field. The Mariners are not looking to contend. Not realistically, not in 2012. 2012 is going to be a "well let's see" kind of season. So the Mariners can afford to see of what Carp is capable without jeopardizing a shot at the playoffs.

I doubt it's going to be pretty, but there's value in seeing if Carp can cut it in left. If he can, hey, all right. That's useful. If he can't, well, now we know. An unfortunate scenario would be Carp being a bad left fielder in 2012 and then the Mariners committing to him out there for the future anyway, but we needn't worry about that yet.

Hell, we don't even know what Carp's bat would look like over a full season. A year from now he might not even be in the picture. With the 2012 Mariners looking okay but not good enough, I don't see the harm in testing Carp's limits. The risk is just not that great.