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Should Kolten Wong's stolen-base attempts be limited?

David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong has been touted as the total package since his selection in the first round of the 2011 MLB Draft. The Hawaiian can hit, field, run, and has baseball smarts. Wong's all-around ability makes him a throwback to the Whiteyball era. He generates value in every facet of the game, just like Willie McGee or Tommy Herr.

But one of Wong's skills has been lacking so far in 2015: base-stealing.

In his college days, nobody would have confused Wong with John Robbie—he was not that skilled a thief. Wong swiped 11 bases in 15 tries in 2009 as a freshman, a 73.3% success rate. In Wong's sophomore season he maintained that 73% success rate, stealing19 bases in 26 attempts. In Wong's final year as a Rainbow Warrior, he upped his stolen-base rate to 76.7% with 23 stolen bases in 30 tries. Wong's success rate was not bad by any means, but it also was not especially good for a prospect playing in the Big West who earned plaudits for his polish.

As a pro, Wong started off badly as a base-stealer. During his brief stint in the Midwest League after signing with St. Louis, he was gunned down on the basepaths five times, giving him nine steals in 14 attempts and a 64.3% success rate. In the Texas League the following year, Wong attempted to steal a base 32 times and was successful on 21 of those tries—a 65.6% success rate. With Triple-A Memphis the following year, Wong went a sterling 20-for-21 (95.2%).

Perhaps it was that final almost-full season in the minors that caused expectations to grow with respect to his base-stealing prowess? Whatever planted the seed, Wong helped it grow during his rookie campaign in 2014 with the Cardinals. He thieved 20 bases and the opposition threw him out just four times. That was good for an 83.3% success rate. Wong's success at swiping bases helped him to be worth five runs (or half-a-win) on the bases in 2014.

The projections systems credited Wong with a degree of base-stealing talent entering 2015:

  • ZiPS: 21 SB, 5 CS (80.8%)
  • PECOTA:  23 CS, 4 CS (85.2%)
  • Steamer: 17 SB, 8 CS (68.0%)
  • Oliver:  23 SB, 6 CS (79.3%)

In hindsight, it appears only Steamer had an inkling of the poor 2015 season that Wong would have on the base-stealing front.

Wong has dirtied his birds-on-the-bat many a time this year attempting to pilfer a bag. He has 21 stolen-base attempts. Opponents have thrown him out on eight of those tries, giving him 13 successful acts of thievery. That works out to a 61.9% success rate. The term "success rate" is used loosely here because that SB% is downright bad.

With his dives and slides, Wong has become a poster boy for dirty baseball laundry. His spectacular defensive plays have become so commonplace they are approaching the territory of the routine. Unfortunately, so are his caught-stealings. At Wong's current success rate, manager Mike Matheny may want to think about limiting his second baseman's ability to dirty his jersey with stolen-base attempts over the remainder of the year.

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