photo: Kolten Wong (Jeff Curry/Imagn)
If anyone would have told you that the 2019 St. Louis Cardinals would win 91 regular-season games, finish first in the Central Division and reach the National League finals despite their number three and four hitters coming in fourth and fifth on the offense respectively in WAR, would you have believed it?
Well, that is precisely what happened. New first base acquisition Paul Goldschmidt logged a 2.8 bWAR, followed by left fielder Marcell Ozuna at 2.2. Offensive performers ahead of them, all by at least one win, are three Cardinals – Kolten Wong (4.7), Paul DeJong (4.1) and TCN Cardinals Rookie of the Year Tommy Edman (3.8).
Given that background, the competition for the team’s top player in 2019 is really between the two middle infield starters for the entire season, second baseman Wong and shortstop DeJong.
While both are plus defenders, Wong is considered one of the very best in the game at his position and as such was the unanimous 2019 Fielding Bible Award selection for all MLB second basemen, his second consecutive honor. He is also the favorite to win the NL Gold Glove Award at second base, after coming close in 2018. Like Wong, DeJong is a 2019 top three Gold Glove Award finisher (aka “finalist”).
Offensively, DeJong has a clear power edge, but faded considerably at the plate as the season progressed. In a direct comparison of total offensive contribution, DeJong ended as a league-average player (100 wRC+), while Wong, allowed to play every day for the first time since 2015, came in at 108.
All factors considered, Kolten Wong is The Cardinal Nation’s St. Louis Cardinals Player of the Year in 2019.
There were a number of noteworthy offensive performances by Cardinals hitters in 2019. Let’s look at the stats of the 10 who had at least 200 plate appearances for St. Louis. They are listed in descending bWAR sequence.
|Hitters – 2019||G||PA||HR||SB||AVG||OBP||SLG||OPS||fWAR||bWAR|
Nine of St. Louis’ 10 busiest offensive players generated a positive bWAR (per Baseball Reference), and all 10 had fWARs (Fangraphs uses a different formula) above zero.
Jose Martinez was last in both WAR measurements, with our 2018 winner and Player of the Year in three of the last four years, Matt Carpenter, a very disappointing second from the bottom.
With 30 home runs, DeJong was only topped by Goldschmidt among Cardinals. Wong paced the club with his career-best total of 24 stolen bases, and was only caught four times.
Wong also led the regulars with his .361 on-base percentage and his .285 batting average only trailed Edman, who did not have enough MLB plate appearances to qualify among league leaders.
|Hitters – 2019||BB%||K%||ISO||BABIP||wRC+|
Dexter Fowler edged traditional team leader Carpenter in walk rate, while Yadier Molina and Wong struck out least often.
As one would expect, Goldschmidt and Ozuna led the Cards in Isolated Power (ISO). DeJong, Ozuna and Harrison Bader all had low BABIPs, suggesting some misfortune, perhaps. The BABIP of Edman was high, with a potential correction ahead.
In a catch-all offensive measure, Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+), Edman topped the group, due to his strong 92-game MLB debut. Among the full-season regulars, Goldschmidt and Ozuna again led the way in wRC+, with Wong right behind them.
The winner’s 2019 highlights
Not only did Wong improve as the season went on and the Cardinals pulled into the division lead, he got better as each game progressed, too.
Following the All-Star break, the left-handed batter ranked fifth in the National League in batting average (.342) and just missed the top 10 in on-base percentage (.409, 11th). Wong was hottest in the hottest months, batting .366 during July and August, the highest mark in the National League and second-best in MLB.
Hitting in the seventh inning or later, Wong’s .344 mark trailed only reigning MVP Christian Yelich in the National League.
Among NL second basemen in the field, the 28-year old ranked first in Defensive Runs Saved (14), first in Defensive Zone Rating (.819), and second in double plays (103). According the Fielding Bible, Wong “made 38 plays in which he sprinted to either reach a popup or go after a ground ball, five more than any other second baseman.”
As noted, Wong also had a solid offensive year. His NL ranks include: stolen bases (24, 7th), stolen base percentage (85.7, 24-28, 4th), hit by pitch (13, T11th), bunt hits (10, 1st – also first in MLB), infield hits (20, T8th), and lowest grounded into double play percentage (2.3, 6th). He also led all Cardinals league qualifiers with his .285 BA and .361 OBP.
(Thank you to St. Louis Cardinals media relations for the above rankings.)
What could be next?
Looking ahead, Wong has earned a more important role in the offense and I believe the 28-year old should get another shot at the leadoff spot.
In 2019, we saw Wong’s increasing maturity as a hitter, taking balls the other way, bunting for hits, no longer wildly swinging for the fences and striking out as frequently. Further, he has been smart, yet appropriately aggressive on the bases, all of which are substantiated in the numbers above.
Wong still has career upside, which prior leadoff men and 30-plus year olds Carpenter and Fowler do not. Manager Mike Shildt showed the confidence in his second baseman to let him play every day in 2019 and was rewarded. It is time to take the next step with Wong.
With a projected 2020 lineup that looks as it will include most of the same names from the stagnant 2019 offense, the team still needs to take action – to get more from those who have the best chance of delivering more. That upside group certainly includes Wong.
Prior year winners
Our top player honorees over the past years follow.
|TCN Player of the Year|
These winners are also permanently recorded under “SEASON RECAPS/TOP PLAYERS,” located on the left red menu bar here at The Cardinal Nation.
Link to master article with all 2019 award winners, team recaps and article schedules for the remainder of this series. Next up is our in-depth St. Louis regular-season recap.
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