You’ll have to excuse Cubs fans for working out with Stockholm Syndrome. They have been undercut, undersold and sold out by ownership for the past three or four seasons, and the final blow came on the day of the trade deadline when all the remains of the 2016 World Series champions were burned to ashes and smeared. So if they cling to a good story that could somehow come out of the garbage dump that is now Wrigley Field (inside and outside), it can at least be explained if it is not fully understood.
Still, it’s hard not to get attached to Patrick Wisdom as he lives up to his own mini version of The Natural. He gets his first shot at a regular role in the Majors at age 29 (just turned 30), and he crushes it to the point where he’s in the running for the National League Rookie Of The Year. It’s not hard to warm up to a guy who only hits long ass homers and makes a loud thud on contact (on the rare occasions when he makes contact, but we’ll get to that). Deep down, we all want to be Dave Kingman or Rob Deer or some other palooka who just hit homers or sit down. The rest is too much work.
Digging into Wisdom’s underlying numbers yields some pretty mind-blowing material (according to numbers from FanGraphs.com). In 83 games and just 279 at bats, Wisdom has 25 home runs, which equates to one homer every 11.1 PA, or one every 10.1 AB if you want to work that way, which would be best in the Majors if he qualify. He slugs .579 without the advantage of walking a ton, which would be fifth in all of MLB if he had enough PAs to qualify. Wisdom’s average output speed of 91.7 MPH would also be good enough for the top 20 in MLB. Obviously, Wisdom hits the ball damn hard. In half a season, thanks to playing a very solid defense in third place (2.1 defensive runs saved), Wisdom is worth 2.4 fWAR. That makes him quite a valuable player, 4-5 WAR over a full season.
At least when he hits the ball, and that’s the problem here. Wisdom is pretty much the definition of an all-or-nothing player, with a stratospheric strikeout rate of 39.8 percent. If he qualified, he would lead the league by some margin. That’s four percent more than Javy Báez’s rate, and we know that Báez powers much of the Northeast Corridor through the wind it creates on the plate. Wisdom also fluctuates in more places than the league average, especially in the zone (76.4 percent against the league’s 68.7 percent), but it also doesn’t connect much more (61.9 percent against the 76.0 percent of the league). the competition). Wisdom also walks no more than average, with a walking speed of eight percent.
Wisdom benefits from a slightly abnormal amount of his flyballs turning into home runs, which can happen if you hit the ball as hard as him. For example, 35.2 percent of Wisdom’s flies end up over a wall, which in itself is not absurd. Fernando Tatis Jr. actually has a higher rate and Shohei Ohtani is right behind Wisdom’s rate. But those are the only players with percentages above 30 percent, and Tatis and Ohtani are MVP candidates and freaks of nature. Are we really going to buy that a guy who just made it to the majors at 29 can run with some of the best players in the game? In the past five seasons, there have been 20 instances of players with an HR/FB rate of 30+ percent, so it happens. But throw out the small sample size of 2020 and it’s only 11 in four full seasons. It’s not that common, and some of it was accomplished with flubber in baseball in recent years.
What is clear is that pitchers have identified a weakness for Wisdom, or a few of them. One is that he can’t get anywhere near offspeed pitches. He can’t stay away from them either.
Or if pitchers are so inclined, any fastball at the top of the zone or above is almost certain will result in a whiff:
So the question going forward is whether Wisdom can adapt and come close to this as his career progresses? You can bet the Cubs are going to give him a shot because A) He’s cheap as shit and B) He’s a feel-good story that will distract Cubs fans from the reality of the owners who make this team sandbags in the coming years.
That doesn’t mean Wisdom can’t get it done. Players who had a K-rate of more than 30 percent in the past 10 years and who were above average attacking players (wRC+ over 100) simply had to have a plus walk rate. Wisdom has shown in the past that he is capable of this. In 2018 and 2019 Triple-A in the St. Louis and Texas systems, he had run percentages of over 10 percent. But 10 percent alone, which is roughly where Wisdom came from, will not be enough. Especially when the baseball continues to drain and it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain an HR/FB percentage above 35 percent.
Enjoy it for now, and in the future, enjoy that it happened at all, especially when Wisdom blows 40 percent of the time and is just a prettier Mike Olt.