Kolten Wong’s Roller-Coaster First Half

It’s been one hell of a strange season for Kolten Wong. He’s hit a couple of very high peaks and a couple of equally low valleys; as such, it’s quite difficult to judge his body of work on the season thus far, as his .242/.299/.392 slash line isn’t really representative of how he’s played at any point this year.

I was high on Wong coming into this season, but he scuffled badly in April. He hit just .221/.264/.265 in 76 plate appearances, and found himself back in Triple-A before the month’s end. The 23-year-old got his game back on track in Memphis, hitting a robust .360/.400/.533 with three homers and six steals in 18 games. While he was gone, Mark Ellis fought a losing battle with the Mendoza line, hitting .190 as the Cards’ starting second baseman.

So it was that Wong found himself back in St. Louis by mid-May, and while he didn’t hit for power, he was very productive in every other way. His slash in 56 PA was up to a healthy .333/.418/.417, he drew five walks against just six strikeouts and stole five bases in six attempts.

Then came the shoulder injury. On June 3, Wong bruised his left shoulder making a diving attempt at a grounder. He tried to play through the injury, but ended up on the disabled list after hitting just .103/.103/.231 in 39 PA in June, which drags down his season line considerably. If you remove the games Wong played with the injury from his season slash, you’re left with a .278/.335/.438 line that’s much more indicative of his actual performance thus far.

Wong returned from the DL on July 6 and has been blazing hot ever since. Over the last week, he was the most valuable player in fantasy baseball, regardless of position. Since rejoining the Cardinals, Wong is 9-for-28 with five homers and three steals in eight games.

The big surprise here, of course, is the sudden power surge. He clearly won’t keep up anything resembling this pace, but he hit nine homers in Double-A in 2012, following up with ten in Triple-A last season. Along with those ten long balls last year, Wong produced 21 doubles and 8 triples in his 107 games in Memphis, and his isolated power was .163, an impressive figure for a guy his size.

I’ve always seen Wong as a player capable of hitting double-digit homers in the majors — even though he’s 5’9″, 185 pounds, he’s surprisingly strong. Combine that with Wong’s extremely quick hands and excellent bat speed, and you have a player who can do this:

According to ESPN’s Home Run Tracker, the blast shown above is Wong’s longest standard-distance homer of the season at 411 feet, but it’s not the only impressive shot he’s hit in his recent barrage.

Henderson Alvarez does not allow home runs. Over the last year-and-a-half, Alvarez has surrendered just nine long balls in 222.2 innings. That’s a rate of 0.36 per nine innings, which is the best rate in baseball since the start of 2013. Kolten Wong is clearly unimpressed, because he did this to Alvarez last Sunday:

It’s important not to overreact to such a small sample, but I’ll refer back to what Wong’s season slash line looks like, when the games he played with the shoulder injury are removed. .278/.335/.438 translates to a .773 on-base plus slugging, which would be good for the seventh-best OPS amongst all second basemen. I don’t think that .278/.335/.438 is all that unreasonable of an expectation either, considering the fact that Wong’s career line in Triple-A is .312/.373/.476.

Wong was swinging a hot bat before he hurt his shoulder, and he’s been on fire again ever since he recovered. While he is currently riding a pretty ridiculous power wave, the fact is that he’s been highly productive in general — when healthy — ever since the beginning of May.

He’s settled into the No. 2 spot in the Cardinals’ lineup, and while the Cards don’t exactly score a ton of runs, batting second on a regular basis should give him the opportunity to amass solid counting stats. All told, Wong is worth owning in all 12-team and deeper mixed leagues going forward, and will likely skyrocket up my tiered second-base rankings next month.

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Scott Strandberg has written for RotoGraphs since 2013. He is a film critic and entertainment writer for The Norman Transcript newspaper, and the co-founder of RosterResource Wrestling. Scott is also the bassist for North Meets South. Follow him on Twitter @ScottStrandberg.

10 Responses to “Kolten Wong’s Roller-Coaster First Half”

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  1. TK says:

    I have been on and off the Kolten bandwagon this whole season and have been streaming hot 2B when he was demoted or performing really bad.

    It would be interesting to see where he lands on your list of 2B for rest of the season ranking.

    For stability, I made a desperate trade in my keeper league:
    Alex Rios and Teheran for Matt Carpenter and Gregory Polanco.

    Reading this it may seem like I overpaid for the 2B help.

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  2. Facenda says:

    Going forward, do you like Wong better than Kendrick? You know what you have with Kendrick. But Wong’s upside is intriguing, particularly with his speed. I need a boost in SB.

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    • JMo37 says:

      In my non-expert opinion: Wong is the higher ceiling pick, with Kendrick being consistent, but not spectacular.
      If you need SB, I would stick with Wong.

      Note: If you want to boost your SB totals it takes weeks to raise as a player who has 30 SB in a season averages 1.15 SB a week.

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      • jdbolick says:

        Kendrick essentially is Wong’s ceiling. Kolten doesn’t have great speed, he’s just an aggressive and smart base runner. With that type of player I always worry about attempts decreasing. The two are very similar at the plate, with Kendrick’s higher strikeout rate washed out by Wong’s higher infield fly rate.

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    • FeslenR says:

      Wong is more talented, he has potential to go 15/25 rest of the way.

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  3. Jolly Good Show says:

    You mention Wong’s bat speed, and I have read here that Rendon also has superb bat speed (I live in England, so it is difficult for me to watch games with the time zone difference). What would you say is the best stat or stats which shows whether a player has good bat speed or not? Contact? Z-Contact?


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  4. FeslenR says:

    do you guys feel Wong is similar to Brian Dozier, or better?

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  5. Mark says:

    I see that his babip is below .250 but with a career groundball rate above 55% and a line drive well below 20% should we expect his average rise as his luck evens out? I can’t recall any other player with such a high ground ball %. It makes me question what type if player he is.

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