Has the Real Brett Wallace Stood Up?

Brett Wallace was drafted in the first round of 2008, and he subsequently compiled an impressive minor league career line of .307/.381/.491 over 400 games. 315 of those games were at the AAA level for five different teams, and peppered in between was one short and disappointing debut and one long and mostly disappointing season. Brett Wallace could very well be the poster boy for the quad-A label. And yet he was very useful for a period of time in 2011 and his recent performance for the Houston Astros has me wondering if he’s going to make this an annual occurrence.

In his first 31 games in 2011, it looked like the Wallace that many fantasy enthusiasts were waiting for had finally arrived. He had a .353/.421/.500 triple slash with a pair of home runs to go with nine doubles and ten runs batted in. Small sample size mavens were quick to point out his over-.400 BABIP but even when it started to regress, Wallace continued to produce. Over his next 38 games, he hit .287/.396/.417 with another pair of home runs, nine more doubles, and 11 RBI.

Wallace was starting to get plucked off waiver wires across the fantasy landscape and leagues with prospects had managers thinking about dealing third base depth to accommodate his arrival. But it seems his deal signed in blood only ran through mid June.

From June 18th to the end of July, Wallace hit .160/.192/.200 without a home run, driving in just five runs. After an 0-15 stretch with five strikeouts to round out July, he was finally sent down. When they called him back up in September, he was even worse — with a .105 batting average and a .150 on base percentage. As we all know, baseball tends to humble players for long stretches of time, but Wallace simply came apart at the seams.

But here we are, third tour for Brett Wallace, and he’s starting to gain some fantasy attention again as there are plenty of owners in constant need of third base options (I recognize he’s pretty much a first baseman, but he’s got third base eligibility, which is where he’s probably the most valuable). Wallace hit .300/.379/.506 with 16 HR at Oklahoma City and the confluence of injuries and trades opened up an opportunity — one that he’s taken advantage of.   On the season, Wallace has hit .288/.370/.510 with five doubles, six HR, and 12 RBI for the Astros.

The obvious question in fantasy circles is what’s he going to do the rest of the way.

One glaring problem that Wallace had in 2011 was his inability to hit left handed pitching. He had a .211/.286/.263 line vs. LHP last season, with a paltry .053 ISO. That hasn’t gotten a whole lot better in 2012 with a .227/.250/.273 line with a .045 ISO. In 2011, he struck out just a little under 24% of the time vs. LHP and this season it’s over 33%. Small sample size police are welcome to kick on their siren, but in his major league career thus far, Brett Wallace is a liability against lefties, period.

He is pounding right handed pitchers, however, to the tune of .299/.400/.571 but that’s also buoyed by a .405 BABIP where his hit trajectory suggests something closer to .360. But hey, .360 is still pretty darned good – and that’s wrapped up in a whopping 31% line drive rate. So at a minimum, maybe throw Wallace out there versus a righty until his skin starts turning an orange-ish hue.

It’s worth pointing out that Wallace is averaging almost 420 feet on his home run distance and the average distance in the National League is just a touch under 400. Yeah, he’s only got six thus far — but they haven’t been cheapies. When he’s hitting them, he’s crushing them. And just for your viewing pleasure, there’s this one at Wrigley:

But there are some things about his plate discipline that really concern me, at least inasmuch as recommending him as a good fantasy option as we head into September. Wallace is hitting fastballs right now, and he’s hitting them extremely well. But he’s struggling against almost all off-speed offerings. If Wallace continues to stay hot, there’s only going to be a matter of time before he stops seeing fastballs in anything other than counts in which a pitcher is well behind (think Justin Smoak).

Once he stops seeing gas in the zone, things could go south quickly. Wallace swings at about 32% of pitches outside the zone — a tad above league average. But he makes contact with those pitches only 38.8% of the time (league average is over 67%) which is among the very worst O-contact rates in 2012 (worse than Brent Morel!).

Overall, his contact rate is just 65% to go with a 15% swinging strike rate — and in fact, Wallace is the only player in baseball with at least 100 plate appearances with a K% over 30% and a batting average over .260. He simply has to start making better contact if he’s going to hit for a decent average, and his power isn’t impressive enough to keep him around when he starts hitting .250.

I could be wrong, of course — because the baseball gods shine on players as much as they send crippling slumps down. I actually hope Brett Wallace has a wonderful, productive career because I really can’t stand the whole AAAA status for players who can’t seem to translate their minor league success to the proverbial big stage. But for fantasy purposes, I’m not relying on Brett Wallace for much the remainder of the year.

But maybe just against Chris Volstad.

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Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.

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