Heading into the offseason, I was pretty sure – and mostly fine with it – that the Cubs were going to plan to head into 2022 with Patrick Wisdom as their near-regular third baseman. If a big-time deal presented itself and the Cubs couldn’t turn it down, OK, fine, go for it. But if not, you give Wisdom some runway.
My thinking/hope was that they would pair him with a partner – not quite a strict platoon, but a partner – who could specifically handle high heat, since that’s Wisdom’s biggest weakness. But, because of the potential to have a big-time impact bat (with a great glove at third), you still wanted Wisdom to get at least a little room to see if he could make some adjustments. Maybe something like a 60 to 70% starter? At least for a couple months to see how the data tracks with the questions that emerged last year?
As the offseason played out, the Cubs didn’t really find that perfect pairing for Wisdom – Jonathan Villar is a very nice player all around, but he isn’t necessarily a guy who dominates at the top of the zone – but they also didn’t block Wisdom from regular starts. I’m thinking he’s probably now going to be more like the 80-85% starter at third? So it’s time to start rooting for Wisdom to take a big step forward, even at age 30.
His two homers yesterday reminded us of Wisdom’s uniquely prodigious power, but that’s not the question for him entering the season. You know the question: can Wisdom maintain his extraordinary barrel rates while closing at least a little bit of the huuuuuge hole in his swing at the top of the zone? It is nearly impossible to be productive, overall, when you’re striking out 40+% of the time, and it is nearly impossible to keep the strikeout rate below 40% in the current league if you cannot make contact with pitches in the upper third of the zone. It helps that Wisdom doesn’t chase, and pitchers absolutely will make mistakes and miss their spots. But, generally speaking, without more contact – and without sacrificing the power – I worry that Wisdom’s year will look like it looked last year after the first two weeks (once pitchers knew what they had to do): .211/.288/.450 (94 wRC+, 41.7% K rate).
To that end, Wisdom HAS worked this offseason to close off that hole a bit, but he has the right perspective on whether it will work or not, and how hard it can be to actually get necessary changes to stick (Tribune):
Wisdom’s adjustments go beyond the tweaks he has made to clean up his swing by fixing his hand path and not dropping the barrel. The mental side can’t be forgotten as he tries to balance cutting down on strikeouts while not sacrificing power.
Incorporating all of that comes into play during spring games.
“It’s just understanding that it’s a process and if you run out there right away to get a result it can be tough,” Wisdom said. “It can be super tough. And I think a lot of people chase the result without understanding the steps along the way. I do that myself. Sometimes you work on something in the cage and you expect an immediate result right in the game.
“Understanding it might take a couple of at-bats to get a hang of it, get a feel for it, especially in the game, because that’s the biggest thing.”
Some of that mental game, too, is accepting the player you are. Adjust at the margins if you can? Absolutely. But give up too much of your good to address the bad? That rarely works out well.
When it comes to things like in-zone contact rate and strikeout rate, you will almost never see a massive and dramatic change at the big league level at age 30. There’s just too much that is innate for a hitter and too ingrained by that point. So you want to be realistic with your hopes for any Wisdom adjustments: a very modest increase in contact at the top of the zone, and no huge drop-off in power. The reality is, given Wisdom’s quality of contact – it’s more or less top ten in baseball *when he does make contact* – he really wouldn’t have to get that strikeout rate much below 40% to be a productive overall third baseman, especially when considering the glove.
As we’ve discussed before, Miguel Sano is probably the best case hope for the bat on Wisdom: a truly elite power bat that is productive (~120 wRC+) in the years he can get that strikeout rate down into the 34-36% range. To be sure, that would be a significant improvement for Wisdom, who struck out 40.8% of the time last year, but the floor is higher for Wisdom as an overall player thanks to the plus glove at third base.
I don’t want to go too far here with the hope, because we can’t ignore that Wisdom was a below-average hitter overall after those first two blistering weeks. It seems unlikely that he will be able to make the kinds of adjustments necessary to drop the strikeout rate enough – and keep the power – to float the overall production to starter level. But unlikely is not the same thing as impossible, and if Wisdom could pull it off, you’re suddenly talking about a 3+ WAR third baseman, easy. With upside from there. It’s worth at least a couple months to see what’s what.