Would Kolten Wong Be A Good Match For The Mariners?

Would Kolten Wong Be A Good Match For The Mariners?

When we explored potential middle-infield trade targets for the Seattle Mariners, Kolten Wong of the Milwaukee Brewers wasn’t included. At the time, it was unclear whether Milwaukee would exercise its 2023 option on Wong. Since then, the club retained the 32-year-old’s services for next year. although this doesn’t guarantee he’ll be a Brewer on Opening Day.

The Brewers have two distinct choices regarding Wong. He can be the team’s starting second baseman or be flipped in a trade this offseason. As MLB insider Jon Morosi notes, the Mariners believe the second option is a possibility.

Perhaps what Morosi is hearing from his sources is nothing more than the due diligence of a team searching for a starting second baseman. Then again, we know the Mariners’ preferred method of acquiring major-league talent is player trades. Adding fuel to the hot stove, Seattle Times beat writer Ryan Divish recently reminded us Seattle was interested in signing the veteran after 2020. Apparently, economics got in the way.

Since it’s very possible the Mariners are interested in acquiring Wong, we should consider how his skillset might potentially help the team in 2023. Let’s begin with the good stuff.

Selling points: Wong’s offensive production in 2022 was significantly better than what the Mariners received from their second basemen. Adam Frazier (460 plate appearances) was Seattle’s main man with Abraham Toro (161 PA) serving as the primary reserve. Dylan Moore (28 PA), Sam Haggerty (5 PA) and even catcher Luis Torrens (4 PA) spent a very brief amount of time at the position.

Kolten Wong vs M’s Second Basemen in 2022

Beyond outperforming a lowly Mariners position group, Wong compared favorably to all MLB second baseman with 400-plus plate appearances this year. The University of Hawaii product’s 116 wRC+ was seventh-best within this peer group. For old schoolers, he also ranked ninth in OB and fifth in SLG.

Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) quantities how a hitter’s total offensive value compares with the league average after adjusting for park effects. League-average is always 100. Therefore, a wRC+ of 150 means a hitter was 50-percent more productive than the average player. An 80 wRC+ would be 20-percent below average.

Over the last two seasons, Wong served as the Brewers’ leadoff hitter in 151 games. If he were a Mariner in 2022, his OBP would’ve tied shortstop J.P. Crawford for third-best among regulars. The Hawaii native’s SLG would’ve ranked fifth behind Ty France (.436). His 17 stolen bases were only bested by Julio Rodríguez (25) and Dylan Moore (21).

Potential concerns: Injuries have limited Wong to 81.6% of his team’s games since the start of 2018. In fact, he’s played in 140-plus games just twice in his 10-year MLB career – 2015 and 2019. This season, the 22nd overall pick of the 2011 draft appeared in 134 contests.

Days Lost To Injuries In Recent Years
2022 – Calf injury (x2) – 33 days
2021 – Calf injury – 15 days
2021 – Oblique (x2) – 29 days
2018 – Hamstring – 8 days
2018 – Knee Inflammation – 13 days
2017 – Triceps Strain – 16 days
2017 – Elbow Strain – 13 days
Source: Spotrac

The left-handed hitting Wong didn’t fare particularly well when facing left-handed pitching this year – .138 AVG/.266 OBP/.175 SLG in 96 plate appearances. When expand our view to the last two seasons, he was better, but not great (.239/.307/.353) during 242 plate appearances against southpaws.

Perhaps this is being nitpicky. But Wong enjoyed tremendous success against the pitching staffs of the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates, while being average-ish or worse against the rest of the league in 2022. This caught my eye since nearly 27% of his plate appearances were against two teams ranking in the bottom-four of MLB in runs allowed/game.

Wong Enjoyed Facing The Reds & Pirates
vs Reds/Pirates (134 PA) – .328 AVG/.396 OBP/.595 SLG/173 wRC+
vs Everyone else ((363 PA) – .223 AVG/.319 OBP/.369 SLG/96 wRC+

On the field, Wong’s defensive runs saved (DRS) dropped significantly in 2022. It would make sense if his calf issue contributed to this slide.

Wong’s 2B DRS In Recent Seasons
2018 (13)
2019 (17)
2020 (5)
2021 (6)
2022 (-1)

While we’re discussing Wong’s legs, his sprint speed also took a hit in 2022. Again, it would make a lot of sense if his calf problem robbed him of speed. Still, we shouldn’t overlook the fact we’re talking about player now on the wrong side of 30.

Wong’s Declining Sprint Speed
2018 – 27.7 ft/sec
2019 – 27.7 ft/sec
2020 – 26.7 ft/sec
2021 – 26.7 ft/sec
2022 – 26 ft/sec

MLB average sprint speed = 27 ft/sec

Thoughts: Considering Wong’s recent history of leg injuries and the fact he’ll be entering his age-32 season in 2023, it’s reasonable to wonder whether we’re witnessing the beginning of his age-related regression. These factors are particularly crucial at this time since next year’s ban of infield shifts will place a greater importance on the defensive range of second baseman.

If Wong had been included in our original conversation regarding middle-infield trade targets, my order of preference for the Mariners would’ve been Willy Adames, Jorge Polanco, Jeff McNeil, Jake Cronenworth, Wong, and Brandon Lowe. To me, adding a player showing the initial signs of decline doesn’t make sense for a team wanting to go deeper in the 2023 postseason that it did this year.

There’s a decent chance Wong outperforms this year’s group of Mariners second basemen in 2023 – that’s at a low bar to get over. But will his offensive production and second base defense be good enough for a team with World Series aspirations?

I have my doubts.

My Oh My…

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Luke Arkins

Luke is a native New Yorker, who grew up as a Mets fan. After the US Navy moved him to the Pacific Northwest in 2009, he decided to make Seattle his home.

In 2014, Luke joined the Prospect Insider team. During baseball season, he can often be found observing the local team at T-Mobile Park.

You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins

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