Kolten Wong had a special 2017 with the bat. It wasn’t Paul Goldschmidt’s average season by any means. It wasn’t Javy Baez’s 2018. Wong will never be that guy. Wong got on base at a .376 clip that year and had a per/600 PA pace of 50 XBH and 12 SB. He only came to bat 411 times, however.
Kolten Wong had an even more special 2018 with the glove. It also only occurred about 2/3 of the time it should have and he got robbed of a Gold Glove award because of it. It was Ozzie Smith type special, though, folks. He was ridiculous.
If he were ever to combine those two facets of his game into one super-season, he’d be a damn valuable player, especially if he did it over a full season. He’d be an All-Star, easy. It wouldn’t take much thought at all. By my best estimates, if you combine his offensive contributions in 2017 to his defensive contributions in 2018 and then you prorate it to a 600 PA season, he’s roughly a 5.25 WAR player. Let’s look at players that landed between 5 and 5.5 fWAR in the past two seasons:
2018 Andrelton Simmons*
2017 Justin Turner
2018 Javier Baez*
2017 Mookie Betts
2017 Justin Upton
2018 Freddie Freeman
2017 Paul Goldschmidt
2018 Whit Merrifield*
2018 Paul Goldschmidt
2017 Andrelton Simmons*
2017 Marcell Ozuna
2018 Trevor Story*
2017 Brian Dozier*
2017 Zack Cozart*
2018 Matt Carpenter
The 15 in that list get shortened to 7 if you look at the players with an asterisk - those players who played mostly middle infield.
Now, the above is complete fantasy. I would argue it’s MUCH more so a fantasy than my projection you will see soon. Kolten Wong is a second baseman. In the last 5 years, second basemen in the majors have had per 600 PA averages of:
I would argue that Wong will likely hit somewhere in the 6, 7, 8 range in the lineup this year and am leaning towards 7th in the order - so that’s the comparison I will make. Here are what 7-hitters in the order have done per 600 PA over the last 5 seasons:
So what does my system say Wong will do in 2019?
52 runs, 20 doubles, 4 triples, 8 homers, 42 RBI
14.6% K rate, 8.7% BB rate, 9 SB, 3 CS
That line would be slightly better than the OBP/OPS of a typical 2B and much better than the typical 7 hitter in those regards. The slugging would be a bit worse than both with the ISO trailing off the typical 7 hitter a bit more. He obviously would have a better pace for doubles/triples (per 600 PA) than he would for homers, and his steals would be ahead of the pack prorated to 600 PA as well. Couple this season above with great defense and assuming health, he would need to be given way more than the listed 438 PA.
What can be pointed out to show that things CAN be better than that?!?
Like much of the Cardinals roster, Kolten Wong got off to an horrific start last year. At the end of the night on June 24th, Wong was approximately halfway through his season in terms of PA. He had 205 plate appearances of .188/.287/.307/.594 ball. The rest of the season, he only took another 202 PA. In those 202 PA, Wong hit .311/.377/.469/.846 including a .310/.380/.429/.809 after Shildt took over for manager (in the last 144 PA of his season). (I point that out to show that he’d turned it around a bit prior to Matheny’s departure - so it was not just an on/off switch with the manager in this case. As you can see, nowhere above do I try to say he’ll keep up an .809-.846 type OPS, but that he’s quite capable of it for stretches. Longer stretches of that - which I believe Wong can accomplish by putting the ball in play more often, as his current hitting coach and manager seem to like in a player, can help the speedy Kolten Wong.
How/If things go wrong:
Wong has shown the propensity to fall into slumps in which he looks like he is swinging for more extra base power and striking out more often, not trying to use all fields, etc. When he gets in those funks - especially against left-handed pitching - it has seemed in the past that he doesn’t know the easiest way to get out of it. The Cardinals seem to have a hitting coach now that puts an emphasis on things that Wong might excel at, but Wong still has to be the one to do it and his past has shown that’s not always something of which he is capable.