There have been a number of comments on Future Redbird posts regarding Patrick Wisdom's success in May and June of 2015 wondering if this surge in offense was just a good streak of hitting or whether it represented "the leap" from toolsy raw pull power dude to a more refined offensive profile.
Let's dig into the numbers and take a look, shall we?
Wisdom was drafted a legit plus defender at 3B with more than enough raw pop in his bat to stick at the position. If you were looking for a comp for Wisdom back in his draft year of 2012, former Cardinal friend and foe Gary Gaetti would likely have been a name thrown about if you were discussing Wisdom's potential ceiling. Gaetti was a very good player for a long time, but was never in the class of guys like Mike Schmidt or Scott Rolen in terms of talent.
Here's VEB's Andy Beard discussing his pro-Wisdom outlook after his first taste of pro ball during the 2012 season:
Prior to the 2012 draft, scouting reports described Patrick Wisdom as a legitimate third baseman with power potential. Some Cardinals fans were disappointed in the pick (number fifty-two overall) because of Wisdom's underwhelming junior year at St. Mary's University, a season that included a ninety point plummet in batting average. The limited data available for college baseball players makes it difficult to explain away Wisdom's struggles, but his walk rate increased by nearly seven percent in 2012, so maybe pitchers just weren't challenging him as often. Even without the less gaudy batting average, Wisdom's park and schedule adjusted wOBA was still above four hundred according to College Baseball Splits, making his season anything but disastrous.
Given Wisdom's struggles the past couple of years, it would seem that we probably should have paid a bit more mind to that ninety point plummet in batting average in his junior year of college, given his inability to make contact over the last couple of seasons but especially in 2014 when Wisdom hit .215/.277/.367 with 149 K's in 498 PA's in Springfield.
A .644 OPS in a hitter friendly league for a guy who's bat was supposed to be above average will knock you off a great many prospect lists in a hurry.
Enter George Greer:
In October of 2014, the Cardinals hired the Mets' AAA hitting coach to oversee their roving hitting instruction for the minor leagues for 2015. Originally drafted by the Cardinals in 1968, Greer never reached the big leagues as a player, topping out in AAA prior to entering the college coaching ranks in 1972. Greer was a head coach at the college level for 23 years (17 at Wake Forest, with a record of 608-382-4) before making the leap to professional baseball to manage the Brooklyn affiliate of the NY-Penn League for the Mets in 2006.
Not the typical professional hitting instructor, to say the least, but a bit of a minor move in the grand scheme of things given how many of these guys exist in the minor leagues and change hands in a given year, right?
Not for Patrick Wisdom apparently.
After a rough start to his 2015 campaign (.159/.224/.295 in 49 April PA's), Wisdom took a trip to Jupiter, Florida to seek Greer's counsel, ostensibly to avoid playing his way right out of baseball given his struggles in the previous year, reported here at VEB by TheCardinalNation's own Derek Shore, who sees more Springfield games than just about anyone else covering the Cardinal farm system.
In the 100 odd plate appearances since that meeting, Wisdom has posted a .288/.351/.471 mark, which is the best 100 PA stretch that he's posted since that initial 2012 season that was referenced by Andy in his post from three years ago.
Which begs the question: Is Wisdom doing something different at the plate that is leading to better results or is this just a 100 PA oasis in a sea of poor offensive play?
The devil is in the details:
Prior to this latest stretch of success, Wisdom struggles to consistently square the ball up and use the whole field, preferring instead to pull the ball as much as possible and try to use his raw pull power to his advantage. You can see this in his spray chart from 2014:
UPDATE: This is the correct picture. I uploaded the wrong one this morning when finishing the post. Stupid lack of coffee...
Notice all but two of his homers came to the left of CF and how few base hits Wisdom had to the right side of second base. Also note the INSANE number of pop outs on the infield. Wisdom has averaged pop-ups on roughly 10-11% of his balls in play and 99% of those will be outs, leading to below average BABIP's throughout his minor league career.
If you add the poor results on balls in play to the 29.9% K-rate from a year ago, you can see why Wisdom's 2014 was a completely lost season for him offensively.
Now let's look at Wisdom's "post-Greer" spray chart:
The differences aren't obvious at first glance, but notice how many balls in play there are in just the last 7 weeks compared to his 500 PA season in 2014. That's one key difference: There's simply more of them. A lot more. That's due to Wisdom's shrinking K rate, down to around 20% of PA's over this stretch.
There's also fewer groundouts to the pull side of the infield and more of a focus on hitting the ball to right field for singles and the occasional double down the right field line. In 400 fewer PA's, Wisdom has nearly as many hits to the right side in 2015 as compared to last season. That's a notable improvement, and one that Mr. Shore noted from watching his games.
The walk rate is up a tick too, but that's not likely predictive of anything as Wisdom has always been a patient hitter, but one thing I would note is that if you mouse over the interactive version of his spray chart at mlbfarm.com you will notice that many of Wisdom's hits are coming in better hitter's counts, something I've confirmed by looking back at his a lot of PA's from last year.
So is it signal or noise?
That's the hard part isn't it? It's really hard to say at this point.
The spray chart thing is real and likely somewhat sustainable as it suggests a change in approach towards using the whole field, but a lot of players are able to make a change for a couple of months before falling back in their old habits again.
Getting into better counts is sort of a "chicken or the egg" argument: Is Wisdom getting himself into better counts and therefore getting better pitches to hit? Or has he just been fortunate to have been in so many hitter's counts in a short period of time and is reaping the benefits over the last 7 weeks? If he's seeing more 2 and 3 ball counts over this period, that would also explain the drop in strikeouts too.
It's really hard to say one way or the other, and this is why sample size is so important: The farther out we get, the more information we have and the easier it is to spot noise. One notable caveat is that Wisdom's BABIP is not too far out of line with his career rate, which indicates that the quality of his contact is likely just a tad bit better (which the spray chart analysis confirms) and not that he's getting overly lucky with outs falling for hits over a short period of time.
As for me, I'm still skeptical: Usually, by the time you have 1200-1500 PA's in the minors you kinda are who you are, especially when those come in your early 20's rather than your late teens. Exceptions do exist, however, and given his glove and the lack of other good options at third base, we're likely going to see if Wisdom's current streak represents a true skill improvement or merely just a run of good play over a couple months' time.
A year ago, Overlord Humphrey approached me with an opportunity to take over the reins of Future Redbirds and write as much as I could about one of the better farm systems in baseball over the last half decade. Over the last year, I've tried my best to provide good coverage of the Cardinals minor league affiliates, draft, and amateur scouting -- basically to keep up the quality of the reporting and writing that came before me.
Lately, however, I've found it difficult to put the requisite time in after starting a new job, stoking a burgeoning side business, and still having time to enjoy family time with my 5 year old daughter (who is starting to enjoy baseball more and more) and twin 2 year old sons (one of which, *crosses fingers*, might be left handed).
In short: There just aren't enough hours in the day for me to put forth the requisite effort needed to continue to churn out quality content for VEB and Future Redbirds readers.
As such, I've decided it's time to pare back my efforts at VEB and make way for someone who can dedicate the proper amount of effort to the coverage Future Redbird readers deserve -- and I think I've left this ship in capable hands, as you'll soon see.
This will be my last regular feature here at F-R. I'll still be lurking around in the comments and posting the occasional feature as a contributor to both VEB and Future Redbirds (and I will continue to mix it up with Keith Law on Twitter).