This is a well known story by now. Kolten Wong signed a $25+ million contract extension in Spring Training only to find himself in Memphis a few months later as a result of a terrible start to 2016 in which his offense (65 wRC+) was 35% below league average. Wong found immediate success in Memphis and even convinced the Cardinals he could play in the outfield, quite a productive rehab assignment considering it only lasted one week.
Wong's numbers have improved since returning to the big league club as he's increased his isolated slugging percentage by nearly 90 points, helping him achieve the league average (100 wRC+) mark. What interests me the most, however, is how drastically Wong has improved his approach at the plate. Among Cardinals players with at least 200 PAs, only Carpenter and Garcia walk more often and only Diaz and Molina strike out less, leaving Wong with the fourth best BB/K ratio on the team. When compared to his career numbers prior to 2016, Wong is walking 4% more often and striking out 1.5% less. These are not insignificant improvements for a guy who's aspired to hit atop the lineup. Some more exit velocity might be nice, but this version of Kolten Wong is probably just fine, especially given his defense and baserunning. In fact, the only position players to accumulate more WAR than Wong in the second half are Molina, Gyorko, and Grichuk.
Wong made some candid comments earlier this month in interviews with J.J. Bailey of KMOV and Rob Rains of Stl Sports Page. Mostly, Wong recounted how difficult this season has been and how he learned to change his mindset in order to cope with his displacement as the fixture at second base. Might favorite quote, however, came from the Bailey piece about how Wong had rediscovered fun in the game. The full quote is found in the illustration below. With the tragic passing of Jose Fernandez last weekend, I think we can all appreciate a player willing to bring personality and flair to their style of play. Wong does just that at his best, so here's to more "eff the haters" bat flips in our future.
NOTE: This has been my first post in nearly a year due to many changes in my personal life, so thanks to Craig for allowing me to produce content at a snail's pace even when I've seemingly disappeared for awhile. Also, this is my first attempt to animate one of my drawings. Ideally, I would've had the bat leave the frame entirely, but I was learning the software on the fly and realized that the file size had gotten way too big with the method I was using. Live and learn! Hopefully, these will get better and better.