St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong is a name that instantly polarizes Cardinal Nation. The conversation should only intensify as 2017 unfolds.
By now, you've heard it all. Should Wong play every day? Can he reach his offensive potential? Will he let his mental game get in the way of his physical gifts? Will Mike Matheny allow any of this to happen? Can he be traded?
Determing if Kolten Wong is like playing like with a rigged Rubik's Cube. The way most fans see it, every time you think you have the cube finished, Matheny's heads pops out of it and says, "Not yet." It's a tricky slope.
There's the salary conundrum, and it likely saves Wong's back for the time being. By the volume of conversation that comes his way every offseason, one would think Wong is one of the highest paid Cardinals on the team. He's far from it in fact. In 2017, he will make a paltry 2.5 million to be slotted in as the starting second baseman(John Mozeliak's words of trust used there). The salary ranks him barely ahead of Aledmys Diaz on the infield alone, so don't get too worked up over the 26 year old.
Yes, Wong is only 26 years of age, but isn't it time for the St. Louis Cardinals to figure out what they have in this kid. He is nearing the endangered species stage shared by Matt Adams and Tommy Pham. The 27-28 year old could be, would be, and probably isn't a reliable Major League Baseball option zone.
Here's the deal. If the Cardinals are going to hold onto Wong through multiple trade discussions, then they need to play him enough to get an answer for his future worth. Right? That isn't easy, because it may come at the expense of power hitters like Jedd Gyorko who isn't a bad second baseman. Does Wong deserve the at bats? It's chess and not checkers. You can't put a piece back on the board after pulling it off.
Looking at Wong's first few seasons, you paste pieces of each facet of his game together for one decent(not great) resume. You can take the pop with the 11 home runs and 28 doubles with the 71 RBI in 2015. He was a career high 2.3 wins above replacement(via Fangraphs) in 2015 as well. If you look at his overall OPS, his overall 162 game average is a very average looking .678. The bat leaves something to be desired with Wong.
How about the glove? In 1278.2 innings at second base in 2015, he put together an Ultimate Zone Rating of 0.4 and saved the Cardinals 5 runs. He made 17 errors and his fielding percentage was .977. Overall, his UZR is 9.0 at second base, which is good but not great. Wong isn't going to win a gold glove anytime soon. He turns a double play quick and can make a dazzling play, but the routine grounders eat him up constantly. While he's an asset to the pitching staff overall, his defense doesn't scream high caliber. Not yet at least.
There's two multiple sides of reasoning with Wong. Some people say he should play every day in order to maximize his potential. He played 30+ straight games in 2015 and his second half was disastrous. His first OPS was .777 and it plummeted to .614 in the latter stages of 2015. He only managed 14 extra base hits, and looked worn down.
2016 wasn't kind, and the power didn't show up. Wong didn't have an extra base hit in April and didn't hit a home run until May 2nd. He started at second base 16 times in April and hit .226 and his OPS was .533. You read that correctly. 5.3.3. By June 5th, Wong's OPS was .591 and he had accumulated just FOUR extra base hits. Wong went to Memphis and came back to play center field because Gyorko was killing it. He came back, and his average rose to .245 and his on base found respectability at .331. The slugging never came back. He finished with a .682 OPS in 121 games. Gyorko outplayed him and deserved the time. Simple as that.
The mental aspect of his game is too tricky to quantify, so I stay away from using it too heavily in anaylsis. He had the pick-off in the 2013 World Series that will follow him around forever, but that shouldn't be stuffed in with his on field performance years later. He's an emotional player, and seems to be at his best when everything is clicking. That is the case for 99 percent of pro athletes. When the chips are down and things fall apart, they look broken. When glory occurs, they are renegades and rise. Wong is no different.
What does 2017 prescribe? Will Wong do well enough in the first two months or keep Gyorko off his tail or will Matheny pull the trigger and make the switch. Unless Jhonny Peralta is hurt, he will play third base. Peralta, while decreasing in power since mid-2015, has a better track record of producing at the plate and makes ten million dollars. Gyorko's versatility and power will be needed as well, but at what cost to Wong?
When Gyorko was brought in following the 2015 season where Wong burnt out, the challenge was real for the latter. Gyorko's contract runs through 2020 and Wong's ends after 2021, where the latter will make 12.5 million dollars. The competition isn't going to end anytime soon, or before one of them is traded.
Kolten Wong is an intriguing talent, but he doesn't fit the doghouse label that fans have attached to him with Matheny's loyalty issues. He still needs to earn the playing time, because he has done nothing spectacular enough to demand the starting job. If 2015 is all he's going offer, the salary fits...for now.
2017 and Wong are a tricky slope, and don't expect it to become clear anytime soon. How long will Matheny stick with him? When does he pull the plug and go with Gyorko? Before you attack the manager, check the stats. Wong needs to do more and be more consistent.
As he enters his 5th season while making an honest wage, Kolten Wong still has to fight for his at bats. There's nothing wrong with a little competition.