Has Kolten Wong Established Himself as an Elite Second Baseman?
Aside from St. Louis Cardinal fans, most people may not be aware of the great season Kolten Wong is having.
He is currently having the best season of his career and is showing astounding improvements in multiple aspects of his offensive production, which is promising for the Cardinals, who currently rank seventh in our power rankings.
Can Wong keep the pace, or do some trends suggest that his hot start will come to an end?
Wong is currently sustaining a career best in all categories of his slash line, and it looks like he’s finally made the leap in establishing himself as one of the best second basemen in the game.
An important thing to note is that Wong’s batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is currently .335. That is well above his career average of .287 and the league average of .296.
He should see some regression in his batting average based on the inflated BABIP, but his basic slash line is solid enough to be relatively stable throughout the season.
The improvement in his statistics stems from his contact. According to FanGraphs, Wong has improved his line drive rate each year since being called up in 2013.
The progression of improvement from 2013 to 2015 has been: 17.4%, 18.9%, and now 24.4%.
He’s also improved his hard hit rate from last year’s 25.8% to 27.3%. The harder you hit the ball, the better your chances are of getting a hit, so the improvement in this category helps support his statistical improvements.
One of the intriguing things of his batted ball statistics is that he’s pulling the ball more than ever this season. Last year he was only pulling the ball 38.6% of the time, and now he’s currently at 47.5%. It’s possible that his increased pull percentage is the reason for an increased line drive rate (since hitters generally pull the ball with more power), but it’s hard to make such a definitive statement.
Wong has made vast improvements when hitting with runners on base or runners in scoring position thus far as well. Each year he’s displayed gradual improvements, but this year he’s having a huge breakout in this aspect of his game.
Since the sample size is pretty small in 2013 for these situational hitting scenarios, the only years that will be presented are 2014 and 2015.
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There are evident improvements in his peripherals for situational hitting, and his increased production helps solidify that he’s developing into a well-rounded hitter.
One would assume that he would struggle against left-handed pitching because he's a lefty, but Wong is currently having his most balanced season of splits thus far in 2015.
Here’s a look at his current numbers in comparison to 2014 -- his 2013 sample is too small to consider.
As a lefty, it’s no surprise that he’s finally hitting extremely well against right-handers this year. He’s currently showing about the same amount of success versus lefties this year, but he’s hitting more line drives according to FanGraphs. He’s increased his line drive rate against lefties from 21.3% last year to 31.0% thus far.
The gradual improvements are evident and look to be a form of consistency we can expect from him throughout the season.
Wong has obviously made adjustments in his approach at the plate and they look to be paying off for he and the Cardinals. He’s more disciplined at the plate, he’s making better contact, and he’s hitting much better in scoring situations.
He’s made the adjustments that teams hope to see from their younger players throughout their development in their early years.
However, there are some aspects of his game that should see regression or need improvement. His BABIP is a clear outlier that should see some regression since he’s currently above both his career average and the league average.
The area that he’s performed poorly in is stolen bases. His increments of stolen base production has gone from three in 2013, 20 in 2014, and only four thus far in 2015. Hopefully he’ll run more at some point, but as of now this aspect of his game is a bit bleak.
As far as his hitting goes, expect Wong to sustain his success as long as he continues making better contact and producing runs in scoring situations. He’s made a huge jump in his development this year and looks to be one of the best second basemen in the game.