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 Post subject: How Good Could Wong Be?
PostPosted: April 3 19, 8:25 am 
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Amoco made an interesting statement in a Game Day thread that I think was worth looking into. Now, what happens in Game Day threads should always stay in Game Day threads. They are the perfect place to spew venom or lavish praise that you won't really mean the next day. That might be the case with this comment:

Big Amoco Sign wrote:
This is Wong's year. Hoping for 6+ WAR from him.


6 WAR from Kolten Wong? Really? GDT's for the win! But, I actually agree with the sentiment -- Wong seems positioned for a career year, and his ridiculous start is only going to make that easier to accomplish. Amoco very reasonably explains that he is hoping Wong can return to his MiLB numbers of a .350 OBP and a 120 wRC+. The year he cites is '13, Wong's full season at AAA Memphis as a 22 year old in his second full season in the minors. Wong hit .303/.369/.466. He reached the majors that season, getting a forgettable cup of coffee. He became a regular in '14 and the presumptive long-time plan at 2b in '15, though he hasn't always held the job, but never came close to showing the eye or the line drive stroke that he displayed in his brief stint in the minors. With over 2000 MLB plate appearances under his belt and age 28 now, Wong is well into the "you know what you get" territory. His career line is .257/.327/.386 with a 95 wRC+ and occasionally brilliant defense.

Still, Wong has never been able to shake that belief from fans and commentators that there is more in him. My question today is what does that more look like?

First, lets examine this through the lens of Amoco's statement. Can a 2b'man with good to great defense get to 6 WAR with only a 120 wRC+? I looked at Fangraph's 2b leaderboard by single seasons from 2014-2018 (5 seasons) and sorted by wRC+. If I limit my search to just those with a wRC+ between 120-125, I get 14 seasons from guys like Scooter Genett, Ben Zobrist, Jed Lowrie, Jason Kipnis, Jose Altuve, Logan Forsythe and others. I would take a closer look at their individual seasons, but there really isn't much point: no 2b with a 120 wRC+ managed to hit 6 WAR. The closest was future Hall of Famer (is that controversial?) Ian Kinsler's 5.4 WAR.

So, if 6 WAR from Ian Kinsler at 120'ish wRC+ isn't possible, then Wong can never hope to reach that value. Except... there's a major flaw in those results. The highest DEF WAR value from any player on that leaderboard was 11.1 by Dustin Pedroia in 2016. Last year, Wong produced a 15.1 DEF value, which would rank as the 2nd best DEF value from a qualifying 2b'man since 2015 if Wong had stayed healthy enough to qualify. A career year from Wong would not only include a bump in offense, but at the very least a continuation of his Gold Glove caliber defense, right? Sure!

Sorting the same leaderboard by DEF instead of wRC+ only makes the picture more muddy. Outside of Kinsler and Pedroia, just two other players have managed a DEF over 10 and a wRC+ over 100 -- Jason Kipnis and Caser Hernandez -- 4.7 and 3.8 WAR respectively. 4 players have over 10 DEF by under 100 wRC+ (which is also where Wong would fall last season if he counted).

2b is sort of feast of famine. Great defense? Mediocre offense. Great offense? Mediocre defense. And the two players that have both are close to HOF standards. If I expand my search to include 3b'man, I get a little closer but still not there. There was no 3b'man in this time frame who reached 6 WAR with a 120 wRC+. Several were at 5.5 or above, and all of them had good DEF values and wRC+'s outside our range -- nearly 130. All of them are names that don't fit with Kolten Wong -- Nolan Arenado, Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson.

That leaves us where we started -- with a player in Wong who we know can pick it at 2b with the best of them and we still believe has more offense to give in him. A comp I mentioned in passing 2x above stands out to me now: Jason Kipnis. Kipnis, not nearly as heralded as Kinsler and Pedroia, still had a stretch from age 26-29 (Wong is 28) where he routinely produced WAR values in the 3.5-5 range. His slash line during that time? A cumulative .276/.349/.429/.778 with a meh'ish 111 OPS+ (which is scaled similarly to wRC+).

Couldn't, in a career year, Kolten Wong's .257/.327/.386... become something like Jason Kipnis' - .276/.349/.429?

Yes, I do believe it could. It's not out of the realm of possibility at all. In fact, it really fits well with Wong's offensive profile in a typical career year, across the board bump. One season from Kipnis stands out -- 2016. Here, Kipnis produced .275/.343/.469 with a 114 wRC+ and a 10.0 DEF value (built from a 8.2 UZR). His WAR value? Not 6+. But, at 4.7... darn good!

There you have it folks. Kolten Wong's career year is Jason Kipnis circa 2016. Maybe Wong doesn't hit that slug%, but maybe he puts together more defense and contact ability -- a .280-.290 BA is not a stretch for Wong. But, here is the real key. That season, Kipnis had 688 PA's. Wong hasn't had over 411 since 2015. If Wong has any chance of reaching Kipnis' level, I think it all starts with health. If Wong can stay on the field, continue to produce at an elite level defensively, AND find a little extra in his bat, he could break 4 WAR. If...


Last edited by Fat Strat on April 3 19, 9:49 am, edited 7 times in total.

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PostPosted: April 3 19, 8:36 am 
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Great post Fat Strat.

I agree that all of the elements needed for him to have a career year are aligned this season.

I think a 4+ war year is absolutely attainable from him. Though don't forget Wong is a very streaky hitter, so he is likely to have a .180/.220/.500 stretch that negates the hot stretch he will have to start the season.

All of the tools and ability is there, he just needs to have the stars align where the combination of peak ability, peak health, and peak luck all hit at the same time. I guess that's why they call it a career year.


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PostPosted: April 3 19, 8:39 am 
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The fact that Wong posted a .376 OBP in 2017 (in 411 PAs) gives me some hope. 6 WAR is mighty hard to come by. Chase Utley routinely topped that, but had to post 150 wRC+ seasons to do it.

I think he can top 4 WAR this year. Hey, he's already at 0.7 through 5 games! That's a 113.4 WAR pace!


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PostPosted: April 3 19, 8:40 am 
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He keeps this up, he's gonna find himself in the 2-hole.


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PostPosted: April 3 19, 8:41 am 
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My only problem is that when my hope is the highest for him, he seems to do the worst.

My therapist has reams of analysis on this very thing, if anyone is interested.

Or I could get you a four page summary.

Either way.


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PostPosted: April 3 19, 8:51 am 
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heyzeus wrote:
The fact that Wong posted a .376 OBP in 2017 (in 411 PAs) gives me some hope. 6 WAR is mighty hard to come by. Chase Utley routinely topped that, but had to post 150 wRC+ seasons to do it.

I think he can top 4 WAR this year. Hey, he's already at 0.7 through 5 games! That's a 113.4 WAR pace!


Lol.

I agree about the OBP. He's just two years removed from this - .285/.376/.412. That's a 107 wRC+ and that season was one of his worst defensively. Still managed 2.1 WAR in just 411 PA's. Same production and defense but give him 600 PA's? 3 WAR. Same production, 600 PA's, and elite defense? 4 WAR.

That '17 season stands out as his best so far, but nothing about it is crazy. It's almost what I feel like Wong's base production should be. It's the only season he managed a BABIP over .300, and a .330 BABIP is not THAT high, especially when he supported it with a LD% over 20. '17 and '18 from a batted ball perspective are not that different at all. The biggest difference is the .55 drop in BABIP, which isn't supported by his rates. He was awfully unlucky last season. Which is another reason to think this season could be the one where the offense, luck, and defense all come together and he's suddenly one of the best overall 2b'man in the league.


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PostPosted: April 3 19, 8:55 am 
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not that everything is mathenys fault (though...) but i do wonder if he feels able to finally just do his thing this season. or its just a great start in 5 games but he does look exciting out there.


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PostPosted: April 3 19, 9:06 am 
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I'm not a WAR guy. There's way too many variables in that formula. I like the eyeball WAR and in my book, Wong, for his defense alone is a 6. When he first came up I thought he was gonna be the 2nd coming of Joe Morgan: crazy quick bat with occasional power and a slick glove to match.

I think he will become that now that 2b is HIS job.


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PostPosted: April 3 19, 9:21 am 
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Didn't Wong hit like .323 after Matheny left last year? I could be wrong.

I think not having Matheny's daily mind games will help him tremendously.


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PostPosted: April 3 19, 9:22 am 
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only 9 position players eclipsed 6 fWAR last year...

I can see Wong hitting in the 4's in a career year, but don't think he comes close to 6 ever


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