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A very early look at Kolten Wong's return

two reasons to be optimistic that Wong is back in regular form

Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

Kolten Wong has had a rough 2016. After being a below average but respectable hitter in 2014 and 2015, Wong got off to a rough start, showing extremely little extra base power with a .063 ISO and a below average BABIP at .265. June 5th was Wong's last game before being demoted. He ended up spending less than two weeks in the minors, where good results there led to him getting called back up, and he started playing again in the majors on June 18th.

How has Kolten fared since returning? With a well below average ISO and BABIP before being demoted, Wong's problem seemed to be contact quality. Let's look at his batted ball profile in 2015, 2016 pre-demotion, and 2016 after getting called back up:

At just 40 PA, so there's not much here to analyze. However, there are two reasons to believe Wong is back in his usual form. Before demotion, Wong had one of the largest increases in ground-ball percentages from 2015 to 2016. Other than line drives and fly balls being better than grounders, that wasn't exactly the problem with Wong's contact quality, but it did seem to be a sign that something wasn't right. The hard hit percentage (Hard%) much more accurately represents Wong's contact quality decline, with Wong seeing a one-third decrease in how often he was hitting the ball hard. Since returning, Wong hasn't recorded an extra base hit yet, but his Hard% is back up to normal. That to me, is a pretty good reason to expect a more normal Kolten Wong going forward.

Before demotion, one seemingly bright spot was Wong's plate discipline stats. Wong was swinging at much less pitches outside the zone, and only a few less pitches in the zone. That led to an increase in Wong's walk rate and a decrease in his strikeout rate. Let's see if that's continued since returning:

His O-swing% has ticked up since returning, and his Z-Swing% has ticked down, not exactly what you want to see when looking at the stats. His contact both in and out of the zone has improved, both in terms of what it was in 2015 and what it was in 2016 before demotion. Over 40 PA, that's more than likely just a strong week and a half than a new standard to expect from him..

While he has reverted closer to 2015's plate approach, this actually might be a good thing: perhaps, in Wong's quest to show Mike Matheny that he can be a lead-off hitter, Kolten was trying to hard to work counts. That hasn't been Wong's game, and perhaps it lead to him waiting a few milliseconds to long to decide whether to swing or not at a pitch. At 25, Wong is who he is. He's probably never going to have the strike zone judgement of a Matt Carpenter, and trying to work counts may be counterproductive for Kolten. What Wong should be working on is just being the best version of himself he can be, no matter what spot in the lineup that gets him.

Wong's certainly not out of the woods: he only has a 75 wRC+ since returning from Triple-A, and he's yet to have an extra base hit over those 40 PA. But even if he had hit well, it's only been 40 PA. What I'm happy to see, is that two metrics that looked out of place before (Hard% and GB%) so far look like they're back to normal. Those stats stabilze quicker than say, ISO and BABIP, but not as quickly as 40 PA, so it might just be a blip, but it's also how Wong as a hitter has looked when he's right. Hopefully this signals that his production is getting back to normal as well