After being handed a $25 million contract extension last spring … after a disappointing 2016 season … after yet another organizational vote of confidence and pledge to make him the regular starter at second base, it’s time for Kolten Wong to deliver in 2017. Deliver on GM John Mozeliak’s investment of money. Deliver on the investment of faith. Time for Wong to stand up — and prevent manager Mike Matheny from sitting him down. Again.
Wong has come through before, tantalizing the Cardinals and their fans with outstanding stretches that showcased his talent, only to relapse in another round of teasing.
There was Wong’s .724 slugging percentage, three homers and seven extra-base hits in his 30 postseason plate appearances in 2014 …
There was Wong’s superb first half in 2015; he put up a .343 onbase percentage and .434 slug in 353 plate appearances before the All-Star break. Wong didn’t make the NL squad, but his was an All-Star caliber first half. (Second half? Crash.)
There was Wong’s demotion to Triple A Memphis in early June of 2016, followed by his encouraging response after being recalled to the big club on June 17.
In his final 217 PA of the season, Wong turned in a .341 onbase percentage and .401 slug.
So here we go again. The Cardinals are scheduled to open 2017 spring training in Jupiter with a Feb. 14 reporting date.
By all means feel free to laugh or snort at me later if warranted, but I’m optimistic about Wong improving offensively in 2017.
Using some numbers from STATS LLC and FanGraphs, here are several reasons why;
(1) Wong has tools. They’re still there. He’s graded out among the best second basemen in the majors defensively, credited with 19 Defensive Runs Saved (total) over the past three seasons. He has plus speed. He has a quick bat and pull-side power.
(2) Wong — at age 26, and with 1,469 MLB plate appearances on his resume– is entering the sweet spot of his career. If Matheny is telling the truth about playing Wong on a regular basis, we should start to see more of the peak-form Wong and less of the enigmatic, frustrating Wong.
(3) You don’t see it on the baseball-card stats, but Wong improved his plate discipline in 2016. Wong’s overall batting stats were mediocre at best in ’16; he hit .240 with a .327 onbase percentage and .355 slug. But Wong’s walk rate jumped to a career-best 9.4 percent, up from his 5.3% over the previous two seasons. His strikeout rate was a career-low (as in best) 14.4 percent, down from his 16% rate over 2014-2015. Wong’s overall contact rate (83.2%) was above his career average. His contact rate on strikes was a career-best 91.4 percent. Wong still swings at too many out-of-zone pitches, but his “chase” rate of 31 percent in 2016 was better than his 34.4% chase rate in 2015.
(4) Wong reduced his soft-contact rate in 2016 and kept his hard-contact rate in line with his career range of 26, 27 percent.
(5) Wong is way overdue for enhanced batted-ball luck. Some of you — as always — don’t want to hear it, because you simply reject the notion of batted-ball luck. The dismissal of an obvious factor (luck) in hitting success/failure makes absolutely no sense to me, and never will. Then again I’m one of the loons who believes that the earth is round.
Wong hasn’t gotten any breaks, that’s for sure. He had a .275 average on batted balls in play (BIP) in 2014, followed by a .296 BIP in 2015, and a drop to a .268 on BIP last season. Wong’s three-season average on balls in play (.283) is 17 points below the overall MLB average and ranks 149th among 178 qualifying hitters over that time.
Wong has found too many gloves when he hits ground balls; his .217 average on grounders over the past three seasons is 21 points under the overall MLB average. Some of that is due to Wong’s pull-hitting ways, making it easier for opponents to over shift and set up their infield defense accordingly against the LH-swinging Wong.
According to Fangraphs, Wong’s batting average against traditional shifts was only .147 last season.
Wong’s numbers have always been higher when his ground-ball rate drops — it was only 40 percent during his robust 2015 first half — so that’s something to watch out for in 2017.
Sooner or later, Wong will benefit from better luck … unless he’s cursed under some eternal bad-luck moon, or something.
The luck has to change, right?
Thanks for reading …