Kolten Wong Has Streaky Season, As Rookies Often Do

On the surface, Kolten Wong didn’t have the most exciting 2014. The 24-year-old’s season was a serious rollercoaster, as I discussed in my column on him over the All-Star Break. Sitting here at the end of the season, it’s hard to look at his monthly splits and know what to make of his year on the whole. He finished the season as the No. 13 fantasy second baseman, coming in just behind the likes of Dustin Pedroia and Scooter Gennett, earning a little over $6. Pretty unremarkable, right?

Wong started off so cold that the Cards sent him back down to the minors before the calendar even turned from April to May. He tore it up for a few weeks in Triple-A, Mark Ellis and his .180/.253/.213 slash failed miserably, and Wong was back up by mid-May. His hot hitting carried over from the minors, and Wong became firmly entrenched as the starting second baseman in St. Louis.

Then, on June 3, Wong’s season took another downward turn. After bruising his shoulder diving for a ground ball, he attempted to play through the injury for a couple weeks, before eventually ending up on the disabled list. In my July piece on Wong, I pointed out that, if one removed the 39-PA sample in between the injury and the beginning of the DL stint, his season slash was .278/.335/.438 to that point. (And no, it’s not completely fair to just remove portions of a guy’s season, but I’m fine with it when we’re talking about a player trying — and failing — to play through an injury.)

So it was that I found myself feeling rather bullish about Wong’s potential rest-of-season production. How did he do before and after that article? Well…

  • Pre-All Star (203 PA) – .242/.299/.392, .691 OPS
  • Post-All Star (230 PA) – .255/.286/.384, .671 OPS

For as much as I tried to stress the point that Wong’s first-half numbers weren’t painting an accurate picture of what to expect, they were more of a photograph than a painting. Wong’s second half was essentially a retread of his first. Let’s start by talking about the good parts of this.

If you add his robust playoff numbers into his Post-All Star sample, you end up with a .253/.281/.424 slash, raising his OPS to .705. Also of note in the positive column is the fact that between Triple-A and the majors, Wong is now 51-for-56 in stolen-base attempts — a truly amazing 91.1% success rate.

Still, I’m sure everyone noticed the elephant in the room, and it’s that on-base percentage. This leads me to the biggest red flag I can find with Wong’s 2014. While his slash lines were nearly identical between the first and second half of the season, there’s one part of his game that stuck out like a sore thumb:

  • Pre-All Star – 5.9% BB-rate, 11.3% K-rate
  • Post-All Star – 3.9% BB-rate, 20.9% K-rate

Ouch. His walks dropped by about a third, while his strikeouts soared by nearly half. The good news is that Wong always had solid strike-zone discipline in the minors, as he compiled an 8.3% BB-rate and 12.4% K-rate in 1,344 PA. Wong essentially just swung too much as the year wore on, especially on pitches from belt-level down.

First half:
Second half:

To me, that looks like a young player playing a key role on a contending team and pressing a bit. The reason I say that is because he’s just never really been a free swinger before the second half of 2014. That’s also my way of saying that I expect Wong’s plate-discipline stats to improve quite a bit next season.

The other reason to be optimistic about Wong’s 2015 production is the fact that his .249 batting average was fueled by an uncharacteristically low .275 batting average on balls in play. You’d expect a far higher figure from a guy with a career .334 minor-league BABIP who also has a ~91% success rate on steals, wouldn’t you? I know I sure do.

The bottom line about Wong’s 2014 is that he was incredibly streaky. Five of his six first-half homers came in one seven-game stretch. He smacked three postseason homers in a six-game span. At one point, he went four weeks without drawing a single walk.

For a grizzled veteran, this would be more troubling. For a 24-year-old rookie getting his first real shot in the majors — and playing on a World Series contender — having a streaky season doesn’t concern me too much. Furthermore, if his plate discipline returns to normal and his BABIP even gets halfway back to his minor-league rate, Wong could absolutely climb his way up into the top 6-8 fantasy second basemen in 2015.

We hoped you liked reading Kolten Wong Has Streaky Season, As Rookies Often Do by Scott Strandberg!

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Scott Strandberg started writing for Rotographs in 2013. He works in small business consultation, and he also writes A&E columns for The Norman Transcript newspaper. Scott lives in Seattle, WA.

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Cason Jolette
Guest
Cason Jolette

Any theory as to why Steamer projects Wong for the same number of hr/sb despite 150 more ab?

Benjamin
Member
Benjamin

his 2013 numbers

Cason Jolette
Guest
Cason Jolette

Flawed logic…especially when they predict his offense numbers to improve across the board.