Learning From Brett Wallace’s Fast Start

After being treated like a hot potato by the Cardinals, Athletics, Phillies, and Blue Jays, Brett Wallace has finally found a home in Houston. He reached the majors last year and now sits upon the first base throne vacated by Lance Berkman at last year’s trade deadline. Through the first month of 2011, Wallace has a .383/.448/.543 triple-slash line that would make even the Puma proud. Wallace clearly isn’t this good — his line is heavily supported by a .466 BABIP — but that doesn’t mean we should just ignore it. Instead, let’s learn from the small sample and see what it can tell us about his performance moving forward.

Wallace’s horrid debut season, in which he posted a .272 wOBA and was exactly replacement level, left many, including myself, doubting Wallace’s ability to be a major league hitter, much less to have a bat play at first base. Wallace had shown that he could spray line drives across the field — particularly in the minor leagues, where he routinely posted BABIPs above .340. Concerns lingered about the rest of his game, however. Was there power? Plate discipline? Neither showed up, and he even had uncharacteristic struggles making contact, which is why he couldn’t even salvage an above-replacement year despite a .326 BABIP.

This year, the .446 BABIP is the rocket fuel behind Wallace’s line, but a space shuttle needs more than just fuel to get off the ground. His peripherals have come together this April — his ISO, BB%, and K% are all better than the league average as well, which portends well for when the rocket fuel runs out and his BABIP returns to normal level.

ZiPS’s projection for Wallace’s rest of 2011 has risen all the way to a .335 wOBA, which although not terribly special, is much better than the .321 projected back in March. Part of it is the fact that the peripherals have returned to a legitimate MLB level, the rest is that Wallace actually does have some of the traits that a high-BABIP player tends to have — a ton of line drives, and, more importantly, a consistent history of high BABIPs going all the way back to 2006 with the Cardinals Single-A team.

Unfortunately, Wallace is a first baseman, and even though his peripherals are above average, none of them are significantly better than most major leaguers. As such, Wallace’s bat doesn’t provide much value unless he turns out to be a J.T. Snow or Doug Mientkiewicz with the glove. He can still be a league average player with his skills — something that none of the projection systems and many of the scouts weren’t expecting after last year. Wallace’s fast start does give some amount of hope — the hope for a productive player — but hopes of a future star and cleanup hitter (a new Lance Berkman, say) are misguided. But at least it’s better than nothing.




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51 Responses to “Learning From Brett Wallace’s Fast Start”

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  1. Bob says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but the Phillies never acquired Wallace.

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    • Trev says:

      You’re correct. Wallace as traded from the A’s to the Blue Jays for Michael Taylor who was acquired from Philly in the Roy Halladay trade.

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      • CJ says:

        The Astros acquired Wallace from the Blue Jays using an outfield (Gosen) acquired from the Phillies in the Oswalt trade. It was similar to a three way trade.

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  2. ritz says:

    There’s no way he’s 205lbs.

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  3. Mark Houston says:

    Here is a chance to examine the Science of Adjustments.

    Brett Wallace over the winter and spring changed his batting stance. It is unknown who really convinced him to make the change, Bagwell or the new Astros batting coach, Mike Barnett. But Wallace did make the adjustment…..he now stands 2 to 3 inchs further from the plate. Until we get a full season of stats (or at least a second trip through the pitching rotations) we’re truly not going to get good read on Wallace.

    Are there any other major league “adjustments” made by batters that have turned a career around?

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    • ritz says:

      Jose Bautista?

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    • anon says:

      marlon byrd.

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    • Andre says:

      Luis Gonzales, going from closed stance to open stance and 50+ home runs in 2001 I believe.

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      • Big Jgke says:

        Luis adjustments were pretty much exclusively changing from his ‘traditional’ Flintstone’s daily vitamins to a more aggressive ‘flaxseed-based’ regimen.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      The Big Cat – Andres Galaraga. Opened his stance and suddenly could hit baseballs.

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    • Mark H says:

      I told you guys several times last year the problem with his swing. He’s fixed it this year…barely. I said at the first of this season he would have a good year if he kept the swing fix he was showing. Last year, he was swinging while striding. Now, from the little I’ve watched, he’s getting his heel planted or close to it before the first move of the bathead into the swing plane. The amazing part about Wallace is he made it as far as he did with the swing he showed last year.

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  4. Romyrick says:

    I guess the Athletics are left holding the potato?

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  5. LionoftheSenate says:

    Scouts>stats on this guy.

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    • Lewis says:

      Because you’re an Astro’s fan? How about Keith Law, he’s not a stat and he hates the guy.

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      • JayTeam says:

        Law didn’t hate Wallace, in fact he felt the Jay’s made a mistake in trading Wallace for Gose. However when Brett struggled last year, Law bought into a scouts theory that because Wallace has very wide hips, he couldn’t clear them in time to make consistent contact on anything thrown on the inner half of the plate.

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      • Lewis says:

        He also has said that he wouldn’t have been close to being on his top 100 list this year if he were still prospect eligible. The fact that he’s not a fan of Gose either doesn’t really have anything to do with his opinion on Wallace.

        Frankie Piliere laughed at me in his chat on this site earlier this year when I asked if he saw Wallace approaching an Overbay like career at the plate.

        Those are two of the scouting types I respect the most. Couple that with the statistical analysis done in the article above, I’m left pretty skeptical.

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      • CJ says:

        Law also said that if anyone can get Wallace to make the necessary adjustments, it’s Astros’ batting coach Mike Barnett, whom Law had worked with in Toronto. Barnett, in fact, did get him to make the adjustment mentioned above, moving away from the plate. Previously, pitchers had been busting him inside where he couldn’t use his hands. Wallace has an unusual batting approach, but Barnett believes Wallace has exceptionally quick hands and wrist which will allow him to compensate for other mechanical issues. I think the key question is whether Wallace will develop the power necessary to be a first baseman. Right now, I would compare Wallace to a Sean Casey-type first baseman.

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      • SC2GG says:

        In response to JayTeam:

        I personally asked KLaw who he thought won the Gose vs Wallace trade (I have a similar name on ESPN, it’s in a comment on a blog of his someplace), and KLaw responded to me and said “Neither.”

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  6. OremLK says:

    I don’t think he’s going to be the next Joey Votto, but let’s also not forget that this guy is a young player who is barely more than a rookie. If he manages do end the season with ZiPS’ projected .353 wOBA, that’s pretty good, and certainly further improvement could be coming in the future. I don’t think he has the raw power to be a star level first baseman but he could be an above average everyday regular.

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  7. Danmay says:

    Everything I’ve heard is that his ability to stay at first base is even in question, nevermind that he used to be a third baseman. So suggesting that he would have to field like J.T. Snow to be an above average/great first baseman is seriously misleading, seeing as how he is nowhere close to this.

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    • OremLK says:

      Then you’ve heard wrong. He’s a pretty good defender at first base. I’d call him at least average. He makes up for his lack of range with excellent instincts, a good glove, and a strong arm (for a first baseman).

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      • Jason says:

        I can’t agree with that assessment. He’s a poor fielder from what I’ve seen. The lack of range is the biggest culprit but I wouldn’t classify his instincts or glove as anything more than mediocre. A strong arm on a 1B is almost entirely wasted.

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  8. Tabert says:

    Fat prospect is fat.

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  9. Tabert says:

    No, definitely the “I eat Big Macs and lots of them” type of fat. I don’t know what’s more unsustainable, his diet or his BABIP. Probably his BABIP.

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  10. Brett Walrus says:

    Fuck you guys.

    I’m not fat I’m big boned. And Ed Wade likes my birthing hips.

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  11. longbeachyo says:

    Ahhh hahahahaha!!!

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  12. CircleChange11 says:

    Big hips are bad for baseball?

    What are we 12?

    I hope we don;t look around the league and see how many good to great players are well, fat. As in fatter than Brett Wallace.

    Too much emphasis at this site on appearance.

    He can either hit or he can’t. Who cares about his damn hips? Is that what we’re looking for in a ballplayer?

    I don;t bring this up to defend Brett Wallace or Cabrera or Sabathia or Fielder or any other *ahem* ‘Husky’ player … but form the standpoint that we, as a community, cannot act as if we are an intelligent notch above other forums/sites, and make completely stupid comments like talking about the size of a players hips, as if they determined anything.

    Big hips often = power for batters and pitchers. If he hits more line drives than long fly balls, then that is a swing path situation, not hips. If he can’t clear his hips, then it’s not likely his hip size, but the girth above his hips that causes the deceleration or the additional load to be moved.

    I also acknowledge that it is possible that FG is attracting new posters/members that are coming from sites where such comments like that are encouraged and praised rather than viewed as being ignorant.

    Brett Wallace might be figuring out major league pitching and could develop into a decent major leaguer. Good for him.

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  13. Jim Lahey says:

    For every Prince or CC there’s a dozen out of shape guys that don’t reach their peak in part because they’re not in the type of shape they need to be. Prince and CC have so much natural talent that they’re able to overcome this, most are not.

    Being a fat pro athlete says much towards the underlying work ethic and level of desire, 2 things which are undeniably important in modern pro sports. If Wallace is too lazy to condition himself properly it’s not that big of a leap to suggest he’d probably rather do other things than watch film of his swing or take extra BP when things aren’t going so swimmingly.

    He’s been born with a great deal of god-given talent. The fact that he, amongst others, seem content in not maximizing it is what really irks people.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      He’s been born with a great deal of god-given talent. The fact that he, amongst others, seem content in not maximizing it is what really irks people.,/blockquote>

      [1] How the hell do you know how much God given talent Brett Wallace was born with?
      [2] How do you know how it compares to others’ god given talent?
      [3] You point out that he seems content in not maximizing his potential … based on his body structure. That seems very weird given that the same thread communicates how much he has worked on his stance and swing.

      Unfortunately, I don’t have the ability to know about a person’s god given ability by looking at them, or knowing their level of commitment, love of the game, work ethic, etc by observing them in a small sample.

      My guess is that Brett Wallace might not be as genetically gifted as originally thought. He certainly doesn’t look the stereotype, which is interesting seeing that Berkman was mentioned as the player Wallace is replacing. Talk about not looking like you can play.

      ———————————————–

      If it can be demonstrated that he’s an underachiever because he’s lazy with a sloppy diet, then that would be evidence worth seeing. But, what we’re seeing now is just speculation and assumption.

      ——————————-

      There are simply just different body types. Bill James, matter of fact, wrote about this in the Historical Abstract … pointing out how many really great players had the “wrong body type”, with the body type being short, squatty, with big hips, and some midsection girth. James speculated that these guys had to be that much better than other players, because they had to overcome their physical stereotype (non-athletic, lazy, etc).

      It’s been my experience that the guys with the most athletic physiques like to use that physique for accomplishments in areas that have nothing to do with the sport they play, far more than they like to practice. Rarely is the most athletic guy on the team one of its hardest workers. Why? He doesn’t have to be.

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      • Noxage says:

        Good lord, all he’s saying is that Wallace isn’t maximizing whatever ability he naturally has. Are you really going to argue that an in shape Brett Wallace is not going to be better than an out of shape Brett Wallace?

        This has nothing to do with “Body type” either. Any body type can get in shape and maximize what’s given to them. He’s clearly not doing that. That pisses people off.

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  14. Carlos Lee says:

    I really am big boned! My European doctor told me so. Also, Lance Berkman is a newbsquire!

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      My guess is that Carlos Lee weighed about 150 in 6th grade. Seriously, his lower body was wide when he was with the ChiSox.

      Even athletes “fill out”, err, I mean their “muscle’s mature” as they age.

      Carlos Zambrano and Bartolo Colon were the kids 12U ball that looked like they should be playing in high school.

      We gotta stop acting like these guys were just regular sized kids/people, and just have “lazied” themselves into “husky” bodies.

      These guys were the biggest kids in the league at 10. We certainly didn;t say anything to them about being “husky” back then … especially with football season coming up.

      This just sounds like grown men acting like a bunch of bitches, to be honest.

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  15. Bron says:

    Jesus. Lighten up.

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  16. CircleChange11 says:

    Yes, I am saying that Brett Wallace trimming down to 15% bodyfat will not necessarily make him a better hitter.

    I just don’t understand why folks automatically assume he’s not maximizing his God given talent, when it’s my opinion he’s not all that talented compared to other MLBers.

    I guess I should start by asking people who they think are Wallace’s comparables in the talent department.

    Through his career he’s been the “big” dude that hits liners all over the ballpark, no speed, weak glove, not as much power as once thought.

    Given that he’s a corner 1B/3B, I view him as a potential 2 WAR player. I don’t see him as being a .290-30-100 type guy, but more along the lines of Adam LaRoche.

    Gave Kapler has one of the best phyiques around. That doesn’t tell me anything about how hard he works at baseball.

    This all reminds mr of the stories of Kirby Puckett wishing he was Glenn Bragg.

    If there is evidence/reports of Wallace being lazy, complacent, apathetic about baseball, I’d be interested in reading them. But the report in this article was that he did put in work, and as a result .. he’s off to a great start. Yet few comments seem to be praising that while more comments complain about the size of his hips/waist.

    Some guys just have the Greg Swindell build.

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    • Noxage says:

      Gabe Kapler probably wouldn’t even be a replacement level player if he didn’t put himself through the type of conditioning that he does.

      Nobody’s saying being ripped guarantees success, only that it enhances what the player already brings to the table. Some players choose to do nothing to maximize what they’re given. Brett Wallace is one of these guys and it opens him up to criticism.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Quite frankly, I think you guys are talking out of your ass. When you guys claim to know whether a player is maximizing their potential based on their appearance, you’re stating something you can’t possibly know … and using your pre-existing assumptions as evidence. I think it is quite common for non-athletes to have erroneous assumptions about bodyfat and performance in skill-based athletics, namely becoming a better hitter.

        Gabe Kapler’s time would likely be better spent on baseball skills, rather than looking good. I say that as serious as one can be. I also wonder about steroid use during his minor league days.

        Bartolo Colon has no shot at regaining his previous form at an advanced age unless he get’s himself in lean, mean condition. Oh wait …

        When it comes to talent/genetics, and the appearance of talent genetics, I think quite a few here at FG can’t tell poop from chocolate pudding. I’m just being blunt. I think folks are claiming to know or be aware of things they can’t possibly know (the genetic talent or work ethic of players they don’t know or observe).

        Look at the comments in this thread … if a fat player is successful, it’s because they’re just so talented. If a fat player is unsuccessful, it’s because they underachieve because they don’t work very hard. IMO, based on previous comments, you could replace “fat” with “Latin” and be just as accurate with false assumptions.

        Just think, if Matt Stairs would get his waist down to 34-inches, he coulda been really something.

        IMO, it really is still about “selling jeans” and people thinking that all atletes should “look the part”, well look the part according to their preferences/standards anyway.

        Completely ignore the turnaround/progress Wallace has made. Keep talking about his weight. Ignore all of the overweight great performers, and just chalk it up to an abundance of talent. This is what is required in order to hold on to a faulty or errant opinion.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Kevin Youkillis is a good example. For whatever reason, I can’t stand the guy … but have tremendous respect for his skill. Youkillis is an example of why spending your time on baseball skills is more important than being in the weight room (and I’m an avid strength trainer), looking good in the uniform. I’d prefer both, but hey.

        Everyone knows there’s a reason why “being ripped” ids sometimes referred to as “window dressing”, right?

        I think it could just be a naive situation, rather than a willfully ignorant scenario. I think people/fans would be downright stunned and disappointed to see the work ethic of many major leaguers.

        —————————————

        I still am interested at why the people in this thread seem to think Brett Wallace is so genetically gifted as compared to other major leaguers?

        I thought the consensus among “baseball execs” was that he wasn’t. I don’t remember too many favorable articles about the Astros acquiring him. I think the conclusion was basically “nobody else wants him”.

        Yet to read this thread, he could be Matt Holliday if he weren’t so fat and lazy.

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    • albert says:

      LOL @ “Trimming down” to 15% body fat for a pro athlete.

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  17. Tabert says:

    Obtuse poster is obtuse.

    Implying conditioning isn’t important in baseball is absolutely mind boggling coming from a usually well informed contributor.

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  18. CircleChange11 says:

    Self-important words X 1,000,000

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  19. CircleChange11 says:

    I said conditioning wasn’t affecting his swing mechanics or ability to strike the ball well.

    That’s very different than saying conditioning isn’t important.

    I just find many of the comments ridiculous. His hips are too big to clear, yet most power hitters/pitchers have large hips.

    He’s fat which means he’s lazy. Never mind the work he put in to his swing to produce positive results.

    Self important words? You bet. But no more self important and self-serving than attributing elite level talent to Wallace, only to belitle him about his weight and work ethic.

    The guy worked on his swing, is tearing it up … And all we’re talking about is his waist/hips as if he’s an underwear model. Obviously, that posses me off.

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    • Jenn says:

      “I said conditioning wasn’t affecting his swing mechanics or ability to strike the ball well.

      That’s very different than saying conditioning isn’t important.”

      This makes no sense.

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    • Jenn says:

      Oh and a ISO of .146 is far, far away from “tearing it up” for a first baseman. Once the BABIP luck dragon turns on him (which it will), his wOBA will come crashing down to Earth.

      He’s not a good player.

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  20. RomRom says:

    @CircleChange

    You are insufferable.

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  21. Shoeless_Mike says:

    Wow Circle Change is an ass hat.

    That is all.

    SM

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  22. CircleChange11 says:

    Comments well deserved. I should have handled this better than I did. I do this from time to time. I’ll take a little break, and return when I can be more positive.

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  23. CircleChange11 says:

    Gentlemen, I think there’s misconceptions at what certain bodyfat % look like. If we take a muscularly athletic 6’0 220 lb guy he will have visible abs (not a ripped 6-pack) at 12%. At 8-9% you don’t want to stand next to him when you’re girlfriend is around. At 6%, he’ll look like a drug-free bodybuilder. 15% will look like a trimmed down Lance Berkman. For example, Youkillis and Howard are likely in the 18-20% range. 15% for Wallace would be pretty good condition.

    I didn’t use ISO for Wallace because I don’t view him as a power hitter. If he were, he’d be a much more valued prospect.

    So when I say he’s tearing it up I am referring to line drives, not power. When I say his midsection girth is not hindering his swing mechanics, this is what I am reffering to. He’s able to get his hands through and stay inside the ball just fine.

    Is Wallace a good player? No. I’ve said that repeatedly, as well as, stating he doesn’t have all that much talent to waste. StL was fine with trading him and keeping Freese and Craig. IMO, Wallace’s ceiling is around 2 WAR and it’s all batting (best case).

    What I lost my cool about were the comments indicating he was lazy despite the evidence that he worked on his swing and was producing better results, regardless of how he eats or how much time he spends on the stairmaster. That just doesn’t seem fair.

    Brett Wallace just simply is not all that talented/good (IMO). That he did put work in and is producing (at least as of now) should be something he gets credit for.

    Hopefully these comments are read with the same calm, polite manner they are written in.

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  24. OremLK says:

    I don’t even buy that Wallace is particularly out of shape. He’s a big guy, but a lot of it looks like muscle mass to me. He’s not lugging around a potbelly, for instance (cough, Carlos Lee).

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