After every season (dating back to 2012), we’ve spent time looking at every player that got into a game for the St. Louis Cardinals that season. They might have gotten a couple of innings, they might have played every day, but if they played, they get a post. Usually, I like to term this like the players are packing up their locker and then seeing Mike Shildt before they head off for the winter. This year, of course, was anything but typical. So we’ll look at every player, we’ll take in some of their stats, but we won’t be giving out grades this season or delving too much into the positive/negative. There are just too many variables in the Year of COVID for that to be reasonable. As he has for the past few years, cardinalsgifs has lent his enormous talents to our header image and we thank him for it!
Player: Kolten Wong
Season stats: 53 games, 208 PA, 26 R, 48 H, 4 2B, 2 3B, 1 HR, 16 RBI, 5 SB, 2 CS, 20 BB, 30 K, .265/.350/.326, 87 OPS+, 1.1 bWAR
Postseason stats: 1 R, 1 2B, 1 HR, 4 RBI, .214/.200/.500
Statcast: .286 xwOBA, 0.6% barrel %, 86.5 exit velocity, 26.6% hard hit %
Best Statcast category: Whiff Percentage (93rd percentile)
Worst Statcast category: Barrel % (1st percentile)
Hero/Goat: Hero 3, Goat 4
On COVID IL: No
Overview: In what well could be his final season as a Cardinal, Kolten Wong finally got something that he’s been striving towards for a long time–he was the regular leadoff hitter for the entire season. That was mainly a function of Wong’s bat control (his strikeout rate was in the top 10% of the league), though the fact that there weren’t a lot of obvious options behind him didn’t hurt either. Wong’s overall game has developed well. For instance, he had a higher average and a comparable OPS against lefties as compared to righties, though obviously in fewer at bats. However, the guy that was often sat early in his career because of the platoon advantage did start nine games against left-handers this year.
Wong still can be streaky. He hit .224 in August, then followed that up with a .301 September. He had four hits in his first three games then none before COVID struck. He had a seven game hitting streak in August when he had an .868 OPS, then went three for 23 in his next seven to close out the month, with two of those hits coming in the final day. Wong could blow hot or cold, but he never went so far cold that people started wondering about shaking up the lineup. Couple that with his second consecutive Gold Glove (which was determined by metrics this year, but otherwise might have been won in Jupiter) and it all added up to a very valuable piece for the Cardinals, especially when they were so desperate for run suppression.
That said, it is pretty remarkable how well he did at the leadoff spot while not hitting the ball hard at all. As you can see up top, he hardly ever barreled a ball. This is not a surprise, given that he was in the bottom 5% of the league in the stat last year as well. He’s barely had a quarter of his hits the last two years qualify as hard hit balls. Most of that’s a factor of wanting to make sure he doesn’t strike out, so he’ll swing at anything close and hit nubbers, weak grounders, etc. Still, it’s a far cry from the grip it and rip it Wong of a few years ago.
Outlook: I never really expected that this could really be an Exit Interview for Wong. The $12.5 million option for 2021 would have been a no-brainer in any normal year and honestly felt like something the Cardinals would do anyway, even with the pandemic ravaging their finances. Instead, the Cardinals wanted “flexibility” (the vesting option for Andrew Miller and the ill-conceived extension for Matt Carpenter putting a significant dent in said payroll gyrations) and let him go with the $1 million buy out. It’s still possible that the two sides could come together if the market isn’t what Wong would expect it to be. Perhaps they’d do a low initial year and more money in 2022 and 2023. If not, though, some team is going to get them a very fun guy to watch on defense at least. Hopefully it’s at least someone on the Cardinals’ calendar in 2021 so he can receive a proper sendoff from the Redbird faithful.