St. Louis Cardinals: Trying to Diagnose Kolten Wong

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Sep 20, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong (16) reacts after not being to score a run in the first inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 20, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong (16) reacts after not being to score a run in the first inning against the Colorado Rockies at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /
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St. Louis Cardinals
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

So what gives with Kolten Wong’s fielding and baserunning?

Wong provided solid value defensively at second base, with a 4.5 UZR and 7.1 UZR/150 at the position, while being just below average in limited time in the outfield. His UZR/150 ranked seventh among second baseman with more than 500 innings, so while he was not quite the gold glove caliber Mozeliak thinks he can be, Wong did have his best defensive *full* season.

Yet, Wong’s struggles this past season might limit his opportunity in the future. Jedd Gyorko emerged as a weapon for the St. Louis Cardinals, and until he shows otherwise, his bat needs to be in the lineup. Additionally, Gyorko was great at second base defensively, though in limited time, accumulating a 4.9 UZR and 15.4 UZR/150.

Overall, Wong was worth only 1.2 WAR over 121 games, and failed to take a step forward in his age-25 season. Wong is still young, however, so though he has been around a while, it could be that he is simply slow-developing. He still has time to make something click, and his low cost contract will ensure he gets this opportunity without creating a financial logjam.

Most throughout the St. Louis Cardinals organization had high hopes for Kolten Wong. He was a Baseball America Top 100 prospect in 2011, 2012, and 2013. He was supposed to be a “hard-hitting, base-stealing presence atop the order.” After being drafted by the Cardinals, he drew comparisons to Chone Figgins, a speedy infielder with good contact ability. Figgins posted four seasons with 3+ fWAR, including a 6.5 fWAR 2009.

In the Minor Leagues, Wong was likely better than the hitter the St. Louis Cardinals expected where he has hit .308/.371/.462; he also stole twenty bases in two seasons. He has shown exceptional contact, on-base ability, and decent power.

Yet, when he reaches the majors he looks like an entirely different hitter, slashing .248/.309/.370. Gone are his contact skills, on-base ability, or gap power. Early in his MLB career, he at least showed promise as a base stealer after swiping twenty bags in 113 games during 2014. However, that number fell to fifteen in 150 games the following year and only seven in 121 games in 2016.

So what gives? Why haven’t Wong’s abilities transferred to the MLB level?

With regard to stolen bases, the answer is actually easy: Kolten Wong is just trying to run less.

St. Louis Cardinals
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports /

Whether or not this is his decision or team philosophy, there has been a significant decline in Wong’s steal attempts each year.

In 2014, he tried to steal twenty-four times and was caught four times. The next season he tried only twenty-three times and was caught eight times; remember, he played thirty-seven more games in 2015 than 2014, but still attempted one fewer steal. The increase in CS is likely due to increased scouting on Wong, so both pitchers and catchers were more aware of him on the bases. In 2016, however, Wong only attempted seven steals and was successful each time. So it looks like Wong hasn’t necessarily lost a step, he just doesn’t run as often.

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