As heavy as the head may be that wears the crown, I’m guessing the metaphorical diadem Patrick Wisdom donned Sunday afternoon in Milwaukee felt a helluva lot lighter than the golden sombreros he’d been rocking. The three-true-outcome rookie was 0-for-4 with a walk and four strikeouts Saturday as the Cubs dropped their second straight to the Brewers, causing him to doubt himself a bit heading into the series finale.
It was the sixth time he’d registered that many strikeouts in a game this season and he’d add a seventh in addition to his heroics on Sunday, but David Ross sent a message that the Cubs still had faith.
“The invariable mark of wisdom is to see the miraculous in the common.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
“It’s tough when you have nights like I did last night,” Wisdom said after Sunday’s win. “And then you see your name in the lineup again, hitting fourth. You’re like, ‘Well, they still believe in me, I’ve got to believe in myself.’ It’s kind of like a gut check.”
Wisdom was responsible for the game’s big blast, driving a 98 mph sinker out to center for a three-run homer that gave the Cubs a lead they wouldn’t relinquish despite repeated attempts to do just that. It was his 27th longball of the year, establishing a new Cubs rookie record and placing him among some elite company when it comes to the rate at which he’s clearing the fence.
Only five MLB players have hit at least 27 home runs in a season with 355 plate appearances or less: Patrick Wisdom, Glenallen Hill (27 in 2000), Giancarlo Stanton (27 in 2015), Mike Zunino (28 in 2021) and Mark McGwire (32 in 2000). #Cubs
— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) September 19, 2021
Based on his 11.9 HR/AB rate, which is far better than Ian Happ (15.2), Billy Williams (21.2), or Kris Bryant (21.5) had in their respective rookie seasons, Wisdom would have hit 11-13 more had he been up on Opening Day. Of course, he wasn’t up with the team until May 25 because, well, no one expected anything at all like this to happen. He hit four homers in 32 games with the Cardinals in 2018, then went homerless in nine games with the Rangers in 2019.
The Cubs picked him up last year and he got two whole plate appearances during the shortened season. Dude just turned 30 in late August, so he’s older than the man whose record he just broke, and he’s spent most of the last 10 seasons in the minors. Many other players in that position might have given up on their dream after being given up on by their team(s).
It didn’t matter that he had consistently shown good power and solid athleticism to go with a rocket of an arm, he just kept finding himself in spots where there was someone blocking his path. Not like there was ever anything malicious, mind you, he was just the victim of bad luck and worse timing. That makes this season all the more special.
“It’s a life thing too; it isn’t necessarily baseball,” Wisdom told reporters. “You’re going to get knocked down plenty of times and you’ve just got to get back up and keep moving forward. And then you come out stronger on the other end and you can look back and be like: ‘I got through those times. I can make it through this next obstacle that’s in front of me.’
“Being resilient in your mindset and your mental fortitude can take you a long way to get you over any obstacle in front of you.”
Words of wisdom, literally. What the aged rookie said there actually sounds a lot like the pearl from Twitter user G-Phunk, whose bio reads: “Great works are performed, not by strength, but by perseverance.” Siri, show me a complete lack of self-awareness.
don't you have a motivational quote about perseverance in your bio?
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) September 15, 2021
When it comes to concern about Wisdom’s future with the Cubs, age should be the least of anyone’s concerns. After all, it really doesn’t matter when you’re talking about a guy on a rookie deal with less than a year of service time. The financial commitment from the team is minimal, so who cares how old he is. But while Wisdom may not be 40, his strikeout percentage is.
It’s actually 40.8% on the season and 44.4% since the start of August, both of which represent the highest marks in MLB over either span. And we’re not talking close races here, folks. No other hitter with at least 350 plate appearances has higher than a 35.6% K-rate, and only 13 hitters other than Wisdom are even above 30% on the season. Of course, 12 of them have positive fWAR.
Wisdom is still 5 points above anyone else in the more recent sample and hasn’t been quite as dynamic, hence the 90 wRC+ that says he’s been a below-average producer at the plate in that time. If there’s a fear about his future viability, it’s that one of those three outcomes is going to outweigh the other two. For instance, an 8.2% walk rate that ranks 125th among hitters with at least 350 PAs is not exactly what you like to see when it comes to offsetting the swings and misses.
But hey, if he keeps hitting dingers every 12 at-bats he can strike out in a whole bunch in the remaining 11 and still be a productive player. The Cubs can actually get away with that decided lack of contact by going in the opposite direction with a middle infield that could very well be comprised of Nico Hoerner and Nick Madrigal next season. Add in Frank Schwindel, who’s been a contact machine with pop to boot, and you’ve more than mitigated Wisdom’s whiffs.
In the meantime, I’m more than content to revel in the coolness of a 30-year-old rookie setting a record that should stand until Brennen Davis is called up.