The Seattle Mariners recently acquired Kolten Wong from the Milwaukee Brewers and there have been mixed reactions from fans. Some point to the fact that he’s 32, his defensive metrics weren’t great last season, it essentially rules out a move for a top infielder, and we lose Jesse Winker. However, I think this move is a good fit for what the Mariners.
Kolten Wong has been a consistent hitter
Chris O’Day put together a helpful analysis of offensive production from second baseman last year compared to Kolten Wong’s stats in his recent article.
"M’s 2nd Basemen – .224/.289/.319. 9 HR, 15 SB, 74 OPS+,Kolten Wong – .251/.339/.430. 15 HR, 17 SB, 118 OPS+"
Just by comparing the 2022 numbers, Kolten Wong is already an upgrade. His career numbers, on a 162-game average basis, are also solid.
.261/.334/.398, 12 HR, 17 SB, 99 OPS+
While Wong doesn’t have immense power with a career .137 ISO, he does put the ball in play and get on base at a good rate.
Despite being 32 years old, there is also potential for him to continue improving offensively. Since 2020, his launch angle has been trending upwards. He hovered around the 9-11 degree range early in his career, but he hit the 12.8 degree mark in 2021, and 14.0 degrees last season.
That might have a slight correlation with his increase in home run totals, ISO, and slugging percentage. Justin Hollander also confirms this when he said “his game seems to be trending upward offensively.”
Kolten Wong has a history of being an incredible second baseman
The former 22nd overall pick in 2011 has won two gold gloves in back-to-back years, 2019 and 2020 with the St. Louis Cardinals. In 2019, he posted 3 outs above average, a 5.2 ultimate zone rating, and 17 defensive runs saved. In 2020, he posted 2 outs above average, a 3.8 ultimate zone average, and 5 defensive runs saved during the pandemic season.
Everything looks good, right? Well last season, he posted -9 outs above average, a -4.7 ultimate zone rating, and -1 defensive runs saved. Wong was pretty solid in 2021 so there isn’t a clear trend of regression. Justin Hollander thinks 2022 was an anomaly for the two-time Gold Glover and I’d say the same. Prospect Insider also mentioned how his calf injury could have played a role in his defensive metrics dropping.
On the bright side, Kolten Wong gets to work with Perry Hill who seems to have magic in his hands when working with infielders; Ty France is the perfect case study.
You also might be wondering why I care so much about his defense when we struggled offensively last season. I foresee the ban on shifts having a major impact on this upcoming season which makes Wong an ideal addition. Not only does he have a history of great defense, but he does provide an offensive upgrade.
I might be emphasizing the ban on shifts a bit too much but I think teams with good infielders will have a bigger advantage over teams with average infielders than in the past few years.
Kolten Wong can steal bases
Kolten Wong stole a career-high 24 bases in 2019 and has put up double digital steals in five seasons. Last year, he stole 17 bases even though his sprint speed has regressed. Here are his sprint speed metrics from Luke Arkins:
"2018 – 27.7 ft/sec2019 – 27.7 ft/sec2020 – 26.7 ft/sec2021 – 26.7 ft/sec2022 – 26 ft/secMLB average sprint speed = 27 ft/sec"
Again, it’s good to consider that his calf issues in 2021 and 2022 could have skewed these numbers. Let’s also not forget that he is 32 years old so he isn’t getting any younger. But my argument is that sprint speed isn’t the only thing that makes a player a good base stealer, although it is a large part of it.
And now that bases will be larger, which benefits runners on base, Kolten Wong should be able to at least provide the Mariners offense with 15 stolen bags, probably more if healthy.
Given how the former Brewer gets on base frequently, turning walks and singles into doubles will be a huge benefit for a lineup that needs an offensive boost.
Mixing up the Seattle Mariners clubhouse
I think one of the intangibles of bringing in Kolten Wong is his veteran presence. He has been around the game for a while and has been on some very good teams; Wong also appears to be a great person per, Brandon Gustafson:
"“Awesome guy from a media standpoint. Always available, always a smile on his face, always happy to talk,” Rosiak said. “Very-well regarded teammate. His locker was always a popular spot in the back of the clubhouse. Guys would seem to congregate around him. I would think from having not been in the Mariners clubhouse, obviously, but from afar, I would think you’d be able to drop him right in and he’ll be a perfect fit. This is a guy that’s been around the majors for a long time, knows how the game is played both on the field and off and is going to do everything asked of him and more to help the Mariners franchise.”"
Bringing in Wong also helped the Mariners dump, Jesse Winker. As much as I hoped he’d figure things out in 2023, his work ethic became an issue and things seemed to be falling apart anyways. Wong should provide a much-needed boost to the clubhouse and would fit in nicely because he has a lot of confidence, swagger, and a solid career on his resume.
The potential cons of the trade
As. much as I like this trade, I also do see a few pitfalls. We sold low on Winker given the poor 2022 season but he is a candidate to bounce back in 2023. He seemed to be dealing with nagging injuries and the issues in the clubhouse around his work ethic could’ve been a really good wake-up call for him.
Kolten Wong is also not invincible. During the last two seasons, he missed games with calf issues;15 days in 2021, and 33 days in 2022 on two separate occasions.
As I mentioned before, he’s not young and could regress. Although his statistics don’t show a trend of regression, it’s always something people will be worried about.
Last but not least, I have to point out the fact that he couldn’t hit left-handed pitchers last season: .138 batting average and .175 slugging percentage.
However, during his career, the numbers are a bit more balanced. Against left-handed pitchers, he hit .254 and slugged .344. Against right-handed pitchers, he hit .263 and slugged .414. I wonder if he has changed his hitting approach which led him to struggle against lefties, while also improving his power numbers.