The St. Louis Cardinals’ second baseman has had his fair share of issues on offense and defense this season. What is the sweet swinging lefty doing different?
As a writer, I like to dig deep and do the research on what a guy is doing well or what they are doing wrong. Sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes it takes a little deeper research. That’s the case with the St. Louis Cardinals’ Kolten Wong and his struggle this season.
On the surface, nothing looks that drastically different for Wong. He’s still pulling the ball at the same percentage as last season. He isn’t striking out at a pace that is all that concerning, and he is making contact at about his normal rate.
However, there is a pretty big difference in his groundball rate and his line drive rate so far this season. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to discover that Wong is not driving the ball like we are accustomed to and with last year’s second half fade, it is quite concerning to see.
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While I have never played the game anywhere near the level that Wong has played and am not any sort of hitting guru, I believe that over the years I have developed an ability to spot differences in a player. So, when I decided to look into what Wong was doing different, I decided to compare his swing from last season and see what differences I could see in what he was doing this season.
Once I saw highlights from this season and compared them to last season, I immediately noticed quite a difference in Wong’s swing and stance.
We will start with the stance first. Last season, Wong had a fairly comfortable looking stance that looks almost like he is sitting on a bar stool. His knees are slightly bent to slightly resemble a sitting position. His back is straight up and down and he holds the bat out in front of him. You can see this here in this picture from NLDS Game 2 last season. The exact same stance can be seen in a previous game against the Cubs in that same season.
His back is straight up and down and he holds the bat out in front of him. You can see this here in this picture from NLDS Game 2 last season. The exact same stance can be seen in a previous game against the Cubs in that same season as you can see below.
Now in 2016, Wong is sporting a new look. From the look of things, this new stance is designed to give Wong more plate coverage and take advantage of his ability to hammer pitches low and away and not give pitchers much room to pitch inside without potentially hitting him.
Unfortunately, this new stance has left Wong vulnerable and has changed his swing to the point to where he can’t drive the ball like he is used to. It has added a wrinkle to his swing that is changing it’s path to the ball. One of the most obvious ways it is doing this is by his altered front step.
In 2015, Wong had a quiet first step that allowed him to drive the ball with authority and stay on the ball when he executed on a pitch in the zone. However, his new first step is way more pronounced and much louder.
Here is Wong’s stance and step in 2015.
Here we see a smooth first step that works in tune with his swing. In the bottom frame it gives him that extra boost in his swing to crush the hanger from Matt Latos. This was what propelled his power and made him a legitimate threat last season.
However, this has changed in 2016. Here is his step and swing from his only homer this season.
This is from one of Wong’s only multi-hit games of the season. The early April game against Atlanta where Wong collected three singles.
Watching this shows that this is leading Wong to become off balance and rely on his hands to over compensate creating an extreme pull. In this specific highlight, Wong is so far off base that he essentially lucks into three rolled over singles with three different looking at-bats.
It’s pretty interesting to see that a slight stance/swing change has seemingly taken away all of Wong’s effectiveness. It is highly unfortunate to see a guy with so much talent offensively struggle like he is right now.
Last season, it simply seemed as if Wong ran out of energy in the second half. His swing wasn’t the problem. However, Wong has for whatever reason changed it and it has not worked at all. To date, Wong has a total of four extra base-hits (2 Triples, 1 Double, 1 Homer).
If Wong wants to get better and get back to the success he had last season, he must get back to the stance and swing from last season. Until then, Wong will continue see weak contact and will continue to look off balanced.