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Your 2017 Cardinals WAR leader: Kolten Wong

The front office has crafted a lineup that projects about 2-3 WAR at every position. Don’t be surprised if Kolten Wong comes out just slightly ahead of the pack.

Milwaukee Brewers v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The analysts who create various projection systems often complain about fans saying a particular system “hates my team.” After all, how could a mathematical algorithm hate a baseball team?

But then yesterday, analysts at Baseball Prospectus published a major technological breakthrough: The first algorithm to express human emotion. Their PECOTA projections managed to replicate the human emotion of hatred - toward our beloved St. Louis Cardinals - by projecting them to win just 76 games and finish 3rd in the division. In pegging Mike Leake as the Cardinals WAR leader among pitchers, the system also demonstrated an aptitude for Trolling.

Setting aside PECOTA’s hateful sentience, while the sum total of its forecast on the Cardinals was quite low (a full 10 games lower than the mathematically and morally superior ZiPS), it identified a trend which every other system seems to agree on: The Cardinals lineup is filled with guys who project to have nearly-equal value.

You remember that game Ice Hockey for the 8-bit Nintendo? (Kids, you can sit this paragraph out.) For each position you could pick an average player, a fat guy who was really strong and slow, or a skinny guy who was fast and weak? The Cardinals are a team full of average guys.

As Alex noted last night, PECOTA projects five Cardinal starters to accumulate between 2.0-2.5 WAR (Molina, Carpenter, Piscotty, Wong, Diaz). ZiPS projects the top eight Cardinal position players all for between 2.2 and 3.1 WAR, a difference of less than a win between the best and worst everyday player in the lineup.

Assuming these projections are reasonably accurate, the question of who is the Cardinals best position player is almost moot. But I’m going to take up the banner for a player who I think could well end the season atop the Cardinals WAR leaderboard, and that’s Kolten Wong.

PECOTA has Wong 4th on the team; ZiPS has him 7th... but in just 495 plate appearances. And there’s the rub: Playing time.

Matheny has been gaslighting us on Kolten Wong for the last few years, telling us that Wong just needs to develop this or that, or mature in some way, before he’s ready to be formally initiated to the club of Mike’s Guys™.

But the fact is - while Wong is prone to rather extreme slumps and hot streaks with the bat - his value is already strong and remains relatively constant thanks to his excellent defense and base running.

In 2016, Wong finished the year 9th on the team in WAR at 1.2. That was in just 361 PAs, and with 19-games played outside the position where he is defensively exceptional.

If you gave him 600 PAs and exactly the same rate stats as he had for the full 2016 season, he would have been worth 2.58 WAR. That would have been good enough for 4th on the team, behind just Carpenter, Piscotty and Diaz.

Those full season stats incorporate the first few months of the season when Wong was in one of his perennial slumps, and still the value was there. During the 2nd half of 2016, Wong’s bat returned to the tune of a .319 wOBA. Were he to play an entire season at the rates he put up in the 2nd half, Wong would be worth 4.2 WAR - easily best on the team.

Now, given his streakiness, it would be ambitious to project him to maintain those levels for a full season. But it does illustrate that Wong has a fairly high ceiling - perhaps the highest on the team. And if his projection from last season based on his good and bad half represents his floor - which I believe it does - he’s still right there with the pack, and clearly deserving of an everyday starter role.