Patrick Wisdom and Daniel Poncedeleon both make strong cases for the feel-good call-up of the year. Wisdom, 27, spent nearly six years in the minors playing in 751 games before earning his first shot at the major leagues.
Man, has he made the most of it.
After an early August promotion, Wisdom was sent back down in the middle of the month. He would’ve been recalled when rosters expanded but headed back up to St. Louis a few days early thanks to a succession of infield injuries. As Cardinal after Cardinal fell to the DL and Josh Donaldson was put on revocable trade waivers, many fans called for a trade for the slumping slugger. That he’s having a poor, injury-riddled year which might lower his cost considerably was the primary argument made to acquire the (former) Blue Jays third baseman. Plus, he’s what the national writers like to call a name brand player.
Here’s the thing, though: Wisdom has already contributed half as much 2018 value as Donaldson. Wisdom has accrued 0.3 WAR in his short time on the roster, compared to Donaldson’s 0.6. What’s more, Wisdom has done so in roughly one-fifth of the plate appearances. Now, Donaldson is on the 10-day DL for his new team and Wisdom is mashing in a part-time role. Half of Wisdom’s six hits have been home runs, putting him two behind Donaldson’s total on the year.
I know, it’s just 30 PA. I hear you, there’s plenty of time for considerable regression. But to that I say: let’s have some fun, huh? Patrick Wisdom is a long-time prospect who struggled to get a shot in the majors. He wasn’t touched in this year’s Rule 5 draft. Now he’s homering every 10 plate appearances in limited action. If Wisdom ends up being close to the player he’s been in his first 17 games then the Cardinals have a pretty valuable corner infielder.
So what has Wisdom done well to this point? To start, he’s putting the ball in the air—a lot. An 11.8% line drive rate is a bit disconcerting, sure. I’m willing to look past it when both his fly ball rate and hard-hit percentage are exceptionally high.
Wisdom’s FB% (47.1%) would rank sixth among qualified batters. That wouldn’t mean much without some oomph behind it, and Wisdom has delivered there—his Hard%, also 41.7%, would rank just inside the top 10. According to my math, hitting the ball hard + elevating the ball = good things. His home run in Tuesday’s game is a prime example: a short, easy swing where the ball looks like it’s trying to run away from his bat, and gets out in a hurry.
One of the biggest knocks on Wisdom in the minors was his plate discipline. He hasn’t had a single professional season in which he posted a strikeout rate lower than 20% and, before 2018, his BB% had been under 10% every year except his rookie debut in 2012. His BB/K hasn’t been above 0.4 since that rookie season, either. In limited exposure against major league pitching, Wisdom has shown solid on-base skills.
Wisdom’s K% is still in its usual range, sitting currently at 23.3%, but his walk rate is now 16.7%. Since he’s only been to the plate 30 times in his MLB career, let’s look at that in raw numbers. Wisdom has collected five walks to just seven strikeouts. He has nearly as many walks as he does hits. That’s no easy task, especially when one’s playing time is inconsistent and they’re facing major league pitchers they’ve never seen before. Wisdom’s swing percentage is just 41.3% and that’s mainly because he isn’t chasing. He’s only seeing 41.3% of pitches in the zone and, as a result, has an O-Swing% of 24.3%. Swing at one out of every four outside pitches and you’re going to get into a number of favorable counts.
Wisdom had traditionally been a third baseman, not playing a ton of first base early in his development. Recently he’d been played more as a corner infielder than strictly at third, for obvious reasons: playing multiple positions really adds to one’s value when trying to climb the ladder. Wisdom’s defense at first hasn’t been exceptional in his limited 11 innings, mainly due to a costly error in Kansas City during the first series of his professional career in which he allowed a run to score. Still, his numbers of -1 DRS and -0.7 UZR aren’t terrible for someone with his power who is still relatively new to the position. The Cardinals now have both Matt Adams and Matt Carpenter available to man first base, but, compared to the defense provided by José Martínez, Wisdom is a solid right-handed backup at the position.
Where Wisdom’s value really comes through is at his natural position. Specifically, the value is that he isn’t hurting the team. In 37.2 major league innings at the hot corner, Wisdom has 0 DRS. His UZR is 0.1. Those numbers aren’t exciting, but that’s my point. With the team’s defense not hampered by his individual contribution, it’s a very easy choice to start Wisdom more consistently at third than someone like Greg Garcia, because both the bat and the glove are a better play. Through pretty average defensive contributions, Wisdom makes this team better with Jedd Gyorko unavailable.
It may not be obvious by the eye test alone, but Wisdom is a plus on the basepaths as well. He tied his career-high in stolen bases while playing for Memphis this season (11) and broke that total with his first major league stolen base against Washington on Monday. He’s only had six competitive runs, but Statcast rates Wisdom’s sprint speed at 28 ft/sec, one full second higher than the average third baseman. Wisdom has that sneaky speed like we once saw with Albert Pujols. FanGraphs rates him above average as well, with 0.3 BsR in his 17 games, which is the baserunning component of WAR calculation.
Wisdom’s current wOBA is .421, which gives him 174 wRC+. That’s MVP production and it’s clearly unsustainable. Yes, it’s still a small sample size, but what do expected stats say?
They aren’t sour on his performance.
Wisdom’s xwOBA is .395, meaning he’s outperformed his expected production by .026. A wOBA of .395 would not be bad by any means—far from it. That production would still be equal to 2018 Matt Carpenter, a legitimate MVP candidate. His xSLG is .543, which is a noticeable drop from his actual slugging percentage of .625, but who in their right mind wouldn’t take a corner infielder off the bench who can slug above .540?
A Postseason Bench Threat
As baseball fans, we try to temper expectations in cases with small sample sizes. Players who start out destroying the competition can fall off quickly. Those who tank can flip the script in a moment’s notice.
It feels like we’ve had more time with Patrick Wisdom than we really have.
That’s probably due to just how much attention he’s been given by fans and local media as he’s been overlooked by the front office. We’ve had plenty of chances to talk about why Wisdom isn’t getting a shot—not only from the Cardinals, but from other teams who could’ve had him for free. To see him come up and make the most of his limited opportunity gives hope that he could really stick with the big league club. To me, Wisdom is someone who’s easy to pull for. His journey has been a long one and he’s giving the front office no reason to send him down.
If he continues to show improvement and help win games, we may eventually see Patrick Wisdom put on his distinctive eye black for the redbirds in the postseason once again—just not in Memphis.