St. Louis Cardinals best/worst case 2016: Kolten Wong


St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong will get some relief against left-handed pitching after the addition of utility man Jedd Gyorko this offseason.

Third-year second baseman Kolten Wong has had some magical moments with the St. Louis Cardinals thus far in his brief Major League career. He has also struggled through some equally tough stretches at the plate.

Sep 26, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong (16) hits for a two run single during the first inning of a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 26, 2015; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong (16) hits for a two run single during the first inning of a baseball game against the Milwaukee Brewers at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Kane-USA TODAY Sports /

After hitting .315 in 73 at-bats against left-handed pitching in 2014, Wong hit just .229 in 166 at-bats against Southpaws last year. With the lack of power production in the Cardinal lineup the past few seasons, the move for Jedd Gyorko (who averaged 16 HR/year from 2013-2015) makes a lot of sense.

Given the relief that Gyorko can provide at second base against left-handed pitching, as well as his power potential, the Cardinals are better off with Gyorko on their roster compared to the man they gave up to get him, Jon Jay.

Wong has averaged 11 home runs a season himself the past two years, so the thought of a platoon at second could be exciting stuff. If the Cardinals could get 20-25 home runs and 70 to 75 RBI out of their second basemen in 2016, it would be a huge boost to the offense as a whole.

While injury issues don’t appear to be in the future for Wong, there is still plenty of uncertainty regarding what to expect from the 25-year-old, especially since he figures to give up some at-bats to Gyorko this year.

Best Case: Wong torches righties, takes over leadoff spot, responds to losing at-bats to Gyorko

In our perfect, fairy tale version of 2016, Wong will respond to losing out on full-time duties by coming out with an edge about him. With the understanding that each at-bat carries lots of importance, Wong locks in against righties and turns in career values for slugging and OBP.

Wong has the potential to be a 20 home run guy. He’s not that far from being there. In Wong’s best case 2016, he employs an advanced approach at the plate to draw a high number of walks while driving the baseball with authority.

With an OBP near .400, Wong takes over the leadoff spot and steals 30 bases. That doesn’t take away from Matt Carpenter, as he seamlessly shifts down in the order en route to his first 100 RBI campaign.

Wong scores 80+ runs, drives in another 50, and slugs 16 home runs despite only getting 400 at-bats. He combines with Gyorko to hit 29 home runs with 85 RBI and 110 runs scored. Much like Yadier Molina/Brayan Pena behind the plate, the Wong/Gyorko platoon combines to post the best offensive statistics of any team’s second basemen in the league.

Worst Case: Wong presses from losing at-bats, struggles against all pitching, allows poor hitting to affect his defense

The worst case for Kolten Wong in 2016 would involve him trying too hard in the now-limited number of at-bats that he gets in St. Louis. He doesn’t respond well to decreased playing time, and tries to do way too much at the plate as well as in the field.

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The result is an inflated strike out total, a lowered OBP, more errors in the field, and a job being lost to Jedd Gyorko.

It will be important for Wong to get off to a good start in 2016. If he starts slow and Gyorko comes out producing, Wong could easily lose confidence and set into motion a vicious downward spiral.

From there, Wong allows his frustrations to get to him, and he shows it in his approach to the plate as well as his focus out in the field.

In this worst case scenario, the fall of Kolten Wong reaches a tipping point when he goes 0-4 while stranding seven runners at the plate while committing two costly errors on defense. All of this happens in a crucial contest against the Cubs down the stretch, as the Cardinals look to claim a fourth-consecutive NL Central title.

The nightmare outing is the nail in the coffin of an extremely difficult 2016 campaign, and we see very little of Wong the rest of the season as Matheny chooses to stick with Gyorko for a playoff push.

With his confidence at  rock-bottom, Wong never recovers from 2016, and is shipped out of town as the Cardinals decide to move forward with different options at second base.

My Prediction: Wong turns in respectable 2016, Gyorko impresses, Wong suffers anyways

I am expecting a season from Wong that looks very similar to his past two in St. Louis. I think that he will be a .250-.260 hitter, and I think that double-digit home runs will be there as well.

Simply stated, I’m just picking Gyorko to be better. I’m not buying that getting out of Petco Park will be the reason. I just think that Gyorko is the better player. Granted, Gyorko is going to have to hit much better than his .236 career average.

But, players seem to have a way of elevating their game once they arrive in St. Louis. Even if Gyorko only gets 40 or so starts at second base, I still like him to get more than 400 at-bats filling in around the rest of the diamond.

I think that Gyorko ends up somewhere around the 16-18 home run mark, and turns in a respectable enough average and OBP to push for full time second base duties come playoff time.

Matheny will play match ups and the hot hand at second base through September, with Wong ultimately surrendering starting duties in the playoffs to Gyorko.

Next: Best/Worst Case 2016: Matt Adams

Still, I like a .261/.329/.404 slash line for Wong with 11 home runs, 45-50 RBI and 55-60 runs scored. I think that he and Gyorko combine for 25 long balls in games they start at second base, and the combo hooks up to give the Cardinal offense a big time boost in 2016.