Not Nervous About Wong

Entering the 2015 season, Kolten Wong was basking in the glow of a strong playoff series where he hit 3 HR’s. His Regular Season numbers in his Rookie season spoke to the inconsistencies of most young batters, but his output as a 24-year-old hitter with a good glove, and in a strong lineup, certainly commanded attention. Wong demonstrated a quick bat as a Rookie and it was not a leap of faith to expect that with experience his numbers would get even better in his Sophomore Season.

Three respected Projection Systems saw Wong producing these numbers in 2015….

Pecota 571 65 11 55 23 .258 .307 .384 .312
ZIPS 552 65 11 50 21 .264 .310 .389 .309
Steamer 510 51 11 52 17 .257 .303 .384 .303

In the run up to the All-Star break, Wong put together a very strong .280/.343/.434 line with a .777 OPS and a .337 wOBA. In 353 PAs, he hit 9 HRs, 18 doubles, 2 triples, had 44 runs, 37 RBIs, and 10 steals. His .310 BABIP was unremarkable and he sported a .154 ISO. With this kind of start, that incidentally should have earned him stronger consideration as an All-Star, he was well ahead of the projections. Wong seemed poised to deliver on the promise that we all hoped to see and even a good bit more.

Unfortunately, his performance after the All-Star break took a decided turn for the worse. In 243 PAs, he batted a paltry .235 and hit only 2 more HRs with 5 SBs. Wong’s OPS dropped to .607, his ISO declined to .082, and his wOBA cratered to .271.

LD% GB% FB% HR/FB% Pull% Cent% Oppo% Hard%
Pre 24.7% 42.6% 32.7% 10.5% 44.9% 34.8% 20.2% 30.3%
Post 19.7% 47.8% 32.5% 3.0% 34.5% 37.9% 27.6% 22.7%

It is clear that Wong became a different hitter after the break. He started to pull the ball less, did not produce the same level of solid line drive contact, and not surprisingly his Hard Hit % dropped by almost 8%.

Wong is a batter with above average bat speed, so unless he was hiding some injury, it appears that his bat started to slow down as the season progressed. It should be noted that he played in 150 games in 2015 which were 37 more than 2014.  Wong had almost 200 more PAs this season, so he may have just run out of gas. Looking at his Rookie campaign, he actually improved in the 2nd half, so this slide in 2015 was not consistent with what happened the prior season.

A look at his spray charts shows that the distribution of doubles he hit changed as the season progressed. The majority of them were sliced to the opposite field when compared to the first half of the season. With his aggressive swing and pull tendencies, these numbers would seem to support the theory that he had a tired bat and was swinging late on the ball.

Doubles Pull Side- Left Center Opposite Total
Pre All-Star 7 4 7 18
Post All-Star 2 1 7 10

In addition, the 5% increase in GB% in the 2nd half seemed to coincide with a lot of weak grounders going to his pull side.

There is nothing here that suggests that Kolten Wong is not a promising young talent. He has the pedigree of a 1st round draft pick and his .305 BA and .818 OPS in the minors was solid. His defensive skills alone will keep him well entrenched in the Cardinals lineup. The dilemma here is that we have had 2 seasons in which to gauge what Wong may bring to the table and there is still enough uncertainty to make fantasy players a little bit nervous. I love nervous owners because opportunity abounds.

While I don’t believe that Wong will develop the power that some thought he might, witness his high percentage of “Just Enough” HRs by ESPN Home Run Tracker standards which peaked at 50% in 2014 and was still over 40% in 2015, but I do believe in his bat. When he’s right, Wong has a quick swing that surges through the zone and he has always displayed good contact skills. Even with his anemic 2nd half, he still met the numbers that were expected from him by most of the projections. He just didn’t do it in a very elegant way.

Wong will be on my radar next season as a player who should improve on his .262/.321/.386 performance in 2015.

Fell in love with baseball at a very young age. My dad claimed that Joe DiMaggio picked me up as a toddler when we were sitting behind the Yankee Dugout. Do remember walking across the lush green grass of the old Yankee Stadium outfield when there were three baseball teams in New York. Fantasy Baseball Analyst for Fantistics and Insider Baseball. Thrilled to be part of the FanGraphs Team. Fantasy baseball team owner since 1990.

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6 years ago

Just a question – comparing the Odor article and this one. It seems like “pulls the ball too much” and “pulled the ball less” are both used as negatives. Is there an optimal pull percentage?