The St. Louis Cardinals have finally moved their second baseman up in the order. How has he more than earned this opportunity?
Kolten Wong has had a bit of a tumultuous career at the second base position for the St. Louis Cardinals. Since being a first-round pick in 2011, he rose through the system to finally join the Cardinals in 2013 only to be picked off to end a World Series Game.
Since then, he has had headcase years, power years, and years where he clashed with former managers. It seems that in 2019 his career has finally settled on what he is going to be finally at the age of 28. Wong is a Gold Glove-caliber second baseman who is streaky but who will do a good job getting on base.
That’s really nothing to be unhappy about from a former first-rounder as it’s fair to say he has been worth the five year/$25.5M extension he signed in 2016. The best thing to see from Wong has been him trying to be the player he is supposed to be. Earlier in his career, he tried to hit homers all the time when his strength has always been his hit tool. While he can still run into one (9 homers this year), the way he takes at-bats right now is playing much more to his strengths.
Last year, Wong broke out the second half of the year and led fans to wonder if he was finally going to be a near .300 hitter. At the beginning of 2019, despite a hot start, Wong (along with the rest of the team) had a putrid May where he hit just .170 with a .510 OPS. He got a little better in June but since July 2nd, he has been among the Cardinals best hitters.
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With a .349/.428/.460 slash line, Wong has an OPS near .900 with eight doubles, two homers, and 14 RBI’s. He had three stolen bases and was caught twice during that time. That stat line looks like a pretty good top of the order hitter right? Care to guess how many times he has batted above 6th in the lineup during those two months before the last two nights?
Two times, Mike Shildt decided to bat the teams hottest hitter with an amazing OBP at the top of the lineup. Add another frustration to the list for Shildt this year… His justification was that leaving Wong down at the bottom of the lineup “lengthened” the lineup as a whole.
Wong has the highest OBP on the team and the top of the order is where he should be. A high OBP is wasted in the 7th or 8th spots in the lineup.
On a positive note, Shildt has batted Wong at the top of the order (second) the last two games and he has responded by going 2-7 with a walk in the past two games. Thankfully Shildt’s mind changed on Wong’s batting position and hopefully, it stays that way. Wong’s batting average has bounced back from a season-low of .216 in late May to .274 today. That bounce-back is great to see and hopefully, he can finish the year strong.
It’s amazing what the confidence of the manager can do for a player. Under Mike Matheny, Wong played scared and was wildly inconsistent and made boneheaded errors. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that Wong has been consistent in the field and at least more consistent with the bat. When Wong is playing with confidence it is a treat to watch on both sides of the ball.
This season is going to go down as Wong’s most valuable year, as his current bWAR sits at 3.7 on the year. Although his fWAR is just 2.5, he ranks fifth among NL second baseman as far as value-added.
Wong may never hit 20 homers, but he doesn’t need to. With a glove like his and the hit tool he continues to show as well as his on-base skills, he’s showing the skills needed to be at the top of the order, somewhere he has earned the right to be…and stay.