Unlike with MLB All-Star balloting, there is not a weekly update on where players stand in the Gold Glove rankings. But scanning the various defensive metrics available and even using the old-fashioned “eye-test”, St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong is arguably having his best season at the position.
“Just the confidence,” described Wong as the difference this year. “I know I can field with the best of them, that’s never been a question in my head. But it’s the confidence of knowing I’ll make every single play. This year, confidence-wise, I plan on making every single play. I go for balls that no one can go for, I try to turn double plays on balls that no one tries to turn because I believe that I put myself in that situation and I train myself every single day to do those. So for me, it’s never a matter of what if, it’s a matter of how am I going to get this done.”
So far in 2018, Wong and has a .991 fielding percentage entering tonight’s game. As a team, the Cardinals are at 98.3% for second base.
“Sometimes there’s double plays where I can’t even turn where I’ll bobble and I’ll be pissed off and I come to the dugout and people are like ‘you had no chance to turn the double play anyways’ and I’ll be like mind your business,” continued Wong. “Let me do what I’ve got to do because in pressure situations, if I can just turn this double play–even if he’s safe, I know I turned it quick enough to be there just in time. When the pressure comes on, I’m going to turn the double play for us.
“That’s the biggest thing for me, how can I help the team get out of big situations? How can I help this pitcher get out the situation? I pride myself on that. Making a big play with no outs to get that first out because most pitchers, all they need is that one out to get out of the inning.”
In Spring Training, Wong shared how eager he was to again be working with Jose Oquendo–but he also explained how he was forced to “grow up” over the last couple of seasons and take it upon himself to do all of the drills and work Oquendo had previously guided him through. Now back together, the dividends are greater.
“It’s huge because I was able to figure out what makes me the most successful without having somebody holding my hand,” said Wong.
“He does a great job reading the pitch and being in position so he can get balls more than in the past,” said Oquendo. “He’s worked real hard on his backhander, so I think his backhander is not a problem now. Now I think it’s one of his strengths. Once in a blue moon, I’ll probably suggest to move somewhere, but for the most part I leave him alone now.”
Entering this past Saturday, Wong led all MLB second basemen with a +10 defensive runs saved average per Baseball Reference and only three second basemen in MLB ranked ahead of the Wong’s rating of 6 Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Average.
Yet due to his struggles at the plate and the Cardinals overall offensive struggles, Wong has only played 44 complete games this season.
Using this past Saturday as an example, Wong did not get the starting nod at second base against a right-hander, Chase Anderson, who was on the mound for Milwaukee. Having scored only seven runs combined in their last three games, the decision was made to go for offense. Wong was hitless in his last 8 at-bats while Jedd Gyorko had a pair of hits in his last five and was a career .300 (6-20) versus Anderson.
And has been the case when not starting this season, Wong was brought into the game as a defensive replacement. Entering in the 8th inning, he turned an impressive 4-3 double play, but the Cardinals had already committed another throwing error–one committed by Gyorko that resulted in Miles Mikolas exiting the game with a runner on second and two out in the 7th instead of finishing the inning.
It’s that fine balance of trying to go with the hot-hand for offense, yet not sacrificing too much on the defensive side that the Cardinals have tried to walk for much of the season. A few seasons ago, that was not an issue as the Cardinals offense was able to carry the glove of Pete Kozma for an entire season.
But as the team has searched for a consistent offense, the concessions can also affect the defense–which in turn plays into an effect on the pitching, even if only in the form of a few extra pitches.
The Cleveland Indians are scheduled to throw three consecutive right-handers against the Cardinals this series, so it would seem that Wong should be starting each of those games. That’s the defensive answer. But as long as their is a need to find the hot bat, deciding how to mix in the bats of Matt Carpenter, Jedd Gyorko, and Jose Martinez will complicate that decision.
photo credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports, Bill Greenblatt/UPI, Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports