Slow starts really are the bane of existence for baseball players. It's one thing to throw up an 0-20 in June after a good start -- slumps are part of the game, everyone goes through them and they should be expected. But there's something about putting up a goose egg for a week or two in April that can really crush confidence. After digging a big hole for yourself, digging out of it seems impossible, and it would seem that this is a big reason why a lot of former players make the case for ignoring stats early in the year. Whether they admit it or not they're smoothing out the curve by doing this, ignoring those small samples of plate appearances that don't mean much in the grand scheme of things and continuing to press forward, confident that the talent will take over in the long run and pull them out of their slump.
Still, it's one thing to go from hitting .280 to .260 over a week in June and hitting .200 for a month in April -- it's hard to see where the end of the tunnel is and there's few recent successes to fall back on to regain confidence in ones ability to hit a seamed sphere and reach base safely.
Kolten Wong has struggled this season. Allen Craig has too. Daniel Descalso, Mark Ellis, come on down. Jhonny Peralta is still hitting under .200 but at least he's got some dingers to show for his efforts thus far. The entire Cardinals offense is feast or famine this young season, and until Sunday, it had been a week's time since anyone on the roster had a square meal. I think that the current state of the offense as a whole, more than anything else, is probably responsible for Wong's demotion more than the play of Kolten Wong himself. In Jenifer Langosch's column at mlb.com yesterday, John Mozeliak is quoted to this effect:
"We've been thinking about or contemplating this for some time in the sense of when you look at how we were playing and what we were doing, there's just no silver bullet to make a quick fix because frankly, our everyday lineup has to produce," Mozeliak said. "But we also didn't want to see a situation where somebody like Kolten Wong was finding himself fighting an uphill battle every day. We really felt like the best way to get himself right would be to do it down in Memphis where he can play every day and take a little pressure off. Up here, there's no time for breaks. Your foot has to be on the pedal every day."
Translation: We can't just keep running guys out there trying to break out of slumps when everyone is slumping. The logic is hard to understand, but that's baseball I guess -- rash decisions based on small sample sizes are basically always going to impact the players lowest on the totem pole first.
So what does any of this mean for the Cardinals future at second base?
In truth? Not much.
The Cardinals clearly believe that Kolten Wong can succeed at the major league level. They traded David Freese and moved Matt Carpenter across the diamond to give Wong a chance to play everyday (a trade that looked great at the time and is looking better each and every day so far this season, regardless of whether Peter Bourjos ever figures out how to hit). Here's Matheny and Mozeliak on Wong:
"We believe he's going to have a long career. It definitely will speed the process up for him where he is feeling better at the plate."
"We know he's capable of doing it, but we didn't want him to have him dig himself a hole where he felt like he couldn't get out of," Mozeliak added. "From a talent standpoint, what he needs to do down there is really just take a deep breath and go back to believing in what he's capable of doing."
Pop psychology aside, it's clear that both have confidence that Wong can turn things around and that he's going to be a key piece for the Cardinals going forward.
Mozeliak also had some nice things to say about Greg Garcia yesterday in Rick Hummel's column that got glossed over in all of the Wong related derision around the Cardinal blogosphere yesterday:
Garcia can play second base and shortstop and, not only has he had good at-bats lately, he had good at-bats the last six to eight weeks of last season.
As someone who's been pining for Garcia to get a shot at the Cardinals utility infield spot since last July, it's nice to hear that he's not been totally ignored by the front office while putting up solid numbers in Memphis. It doesn't seem like anyone thinks he can be an everyday player at the shortstop position, but as Ben noted in his VEB Daily post yesterday:
Garcia can play shortstop and not in the "Daniel, stand in between second base and third but closer to second while wearing a glove" way that Descalso does.
Garcia's versatility will act as a bit of a grading curve for his bat in that a player who can play passable defense at all the infield positions is a valuable player even if he can't hit a lick, as Daniel Descalso has been proving to use for three seasons now. Garcia certainly seems like a better offensive player than Descalso has been, but I wouldn't expect his power surge from early in the season at Memphis to continue in the big leagues as his ISO is currently about 100 points higher than any other season in his professional career. Regression to the mean and all that.
Wong will take Garcia's spot in the order at Memphis, leading off and playing second base every day in an attempt to figure out why he's hitting ground balls 66% of the time he puts the ball in play. Garcia takes Wong's spot on the roster in St. Louis, and hopefully takes any and all of Daniel Descalso's playing time and runs with it as it's likely veteran Mark Ellis will get most of the starts at the keystone in Wong's absence. Hopefully by July, both will be a productive part of a recovering Cardinals offense. That certainly seems to be the overall plan here.
To conclude, these two Rainbow Warriors are likely going to be around a while. Wong for his abover average hit tool, speed, and defense at the keystone. Garcia for his versatility around the infield and his ability to take a walk -- it was almost cliche that his first MLB PA ended up being a walk, as that's been how he's buttered his bread in most of his minor league career.
Here's to hoping each of these former Rainbow Warrior teammates can find their pot of gold.