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Kolten Wong's slow start is over

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With a strong couple of weeks, Kolten Wong has hopefully left a slow start to 2016 behind him.

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

While still a newcomer to fans and teammates alike, Kolten Wong was picked off first base by Koji Uehara to end Game 4 of the 2013 World Series. It wasn't why the Cardinals lost the game - they were down two runs at the time and even though postseason giant Carlos Beltran was at the plate, the odds of the Cardinals winning that game were incredibly slim. Still, it was devastating.

After the game Wong faced reporters with tears in his eyes, wearing his self-doubt on his sleeve for all to see. Ironically, it was the night I decided I really liked Kolten Wong. This - my perception anyway - is a guy who cares. It's how I envision I would play had I not been outed as a bad baseball player soon after a tee was no longer involved. When Wong hit a walk-off home run in Game 2 of the 2014 NLCS, one of the few bright spots from that series, it felt like redemption. Add that singular moment to the end of a pretty successful rookie season and I was content with him being the Cardinals' second baseman for a long time.

In March the Cardinals took steps to make that happen and signed Wong to a five-year extension (with an option for the sixth year), for $25.5 million. It was about as a sensible of a signing as you can find for a good but not great player - the type of signing where you'd have to be really creative to argue one extreme or the other. Soon after the signing, Matt Trueblood of Baseball Prospectus did a good job of parsing as much from the signing as is reasonably possible.

That the Cardinals traded for infielder Jedd Gyorko in December, a player destined to take a bit of Wong's playing time, was hardly irreconcilable with the extension. Not when you consider the relatively low cost and risk of Wong's contract compared to what he may have received in arbitration, and not when you look at Gyorko's career .768 OPS and 117 wRC+ vs. lefties compared to Wong's .615 and 71, respectively. (These are really small samples but I should note in 40 plate appearances this year against lefties, compared to 21 for Wong, Gyorko hasn't distinguished his bat from Wong's.)

That's in addition to Wong's numbers in the second half of 2015 when he hit .238/.292/.322 with a 71 wRC+ in 260 plate appearances. It's not unfair to assume he was gassed down the stretch although that's always a convenient reason when a player has a rough August and September. Certainly no one is speculating whether Randal Grichuk is tired because he's a had a slow start to 2016. Nevertheless, having Gyorko around as a platoon-mate or to give Wong a spell every so often seemed like a good thing.

This was reinforced when Wong got off to an atrocious start to 2016, hitting .204/.281/.204 with a 38 wRC+ in 57 plate appearances through April 25. However, as Adam Felder noted this weekend at Today's Knuckleball, Wong has since righted the ship and should probably be playing more (he's only started 13 of 20 games in May). Here are his stats from April 27 through this weekend's home series with Arizona:

PA

BB%

K%

ISO

BABIP

AVG

OBP

SLG

wRC+

55

10.9%

18.2%

.167

.378

.313

.400

.479

142

Lately he's been the Wong a lot of us envisioned when first seeing his compact, athletic build - the type of guy who can quickly turn on a pitch and drive it down the the right field line for an easy stand-up double.

Through it all his potential has seemed somewhat limited. As Trueblood noted in his analysis of the extension, Wong's yet to display power to the opposite field. And for a player of his mold he hasn't gotten on base at a high enough rate. While an offensive surplus from a second baseman should be viewed as a luxury, Wong's stats on the whole have been pretty average. His 92 wRC+ for all second baseman in the National League with at least 500 plate appearances since the start of 2015 falls outside the top five (Joe Panik, Neil Walker, Dee Gordon, Howie Kendrick, and Brandon Phillips rank ahead of him) and slightly below league average for the position.

In his age-25 season and at just over 1,200+ career plate appearances, there's a chance we've seen a pretty clear picture of who Wong is and that's fine because he's been a perfectly capable player at a position where offense is typically scarce. Wong's going to get a lot of starts, the last few weeks indicate that his slow start is over, and the Cardinals didn't make a five year commitment to him so he could sit on the bench. But Ideally, he's earned even more playing time and thus more opportunity to show everyone who's merely content with him being the Cardinals' second baseman for the foreseeable future that they should expect so much more.