It’s not so much that the Chicago Cubs are a team without a future as they are one without a short term future. Throughout the past calendar year, the plan in trading away their upper tier talent on the roster was fairly clear: acquire lower level prospects with high upside, so while their system certainly has plenty of talent—much more so than it did this time last year—it’s likely going to be a while before much of said talent is realized at the Major League level.
That concept, in itself, is a frustrating one to understand from the fan perspective. It’s also a relatively contradictory one, given that general manager Jed Hoyer has said that this will not be a full-scale rebuild. That’s a hard thing to see, given that Nick Madrigal and Nico Hoerner are the only likely long-term pieces that the lineup could possess, and there’s even fewer in the pitching ranks (Codi Heuer? Rowan Wick? Adbert Alzolay?).
So the winter itself is going to be an interesting one. Does the team pursue one of the top tier shortstops available? Is there a legitimate chance at a Nick Castellanos reunion, assuming he opts out? And just exactly what do you do on the mound? Either way, there’s a ton of questions over this team’s short term future. Could Patrick Wisdom be an answer to any of the myriad that face this organization?
The end of the 2021 season will mark the end of Wisdom’s 30-year-old rookie campaign. Originally drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals, Wisdom had also spent time with the Texas Rangers and in the Seattle Mariners organization prior to joining the Cubs on a minor league pact prior to the 2020 season. Coming into the year, he’d accumulated just 88 Major League plate appearances with three different organizations. Two of those came with the Cubs toward the close of last year.
Perhaps somewhat obviously, this year represents the longest tenure at the top level for Wisdom. He’s notched 275 plate appearances as of this writing, with time coming at each of the corner infield spots (primarily third base) and appearances in each corner outfield spot as well. The increase in volume of playing time hasn’t showcased anything that we might not have already known about Wisdom, but rather given him the ability to demonstrate his skill set over a longer stretch of playing time.
What Wisdom is at this point isn’t a secret. He’s a big power guy with an absolute ton of whiff in his game. That combo first manifested itself in Triple-A back in 2017, when he hit 31 home runs with the Memphis Redbirds and struck out at a rate of nearly 30 percent. He followed that up with another 31 homer campaign in 2017 with the Nashville Sounds. The K% that year? 27.6.
So nothing about his line this year comes as any sort of surprise. Wisdom has slashed .259/.321/.586/.907 for the Cubs, with 25 homers and a .327 ISO through those 275 PAs. His strikeout rate sits at 39.3 percent, which is easily the highest among any Major League hitter with at least 250 plate appearances under his belt. His whiff rate is 19.3, which trails only former Cub Javier Báez among that same group.
It’s definitely a situation where you have to take the good with the bad. On one hand, you have that power bat. When Wisdom is making contact, he’s hitting the ball hard. His Hard% is at 46.9 percent; only Fernando Tatis, Jr. and Aaron Judge have done so at a higher rate. His Barrel% is at 17.6, which puts him 12th among his position playing counterparts. The ISO trails only Shohei Ohtani, Mike Zunino, and Tatis. Not terrible company to keep.
In yet another unsurprising turn, it’s fastballs against which Wisdom has primarily thrived. He’s hitting .283 against that pitch type, with 14 of his homers coming against the hard stuff. His whiff rate, which is still 34.4, is easily the lowest among the three categories of pitches. Given that, he’s doing most of his work to the pull side, where just over 60 percent of his contact is making its way. Sixteen of his home runs have come to that side.
As a hitter, Wisdom isn’t a terribly unique entity. He hits the ball hard, and it travels very far when he does so. In between the homers, he’s likely boosting that SwStr%. We’ve seen plenty of his ilk before. The question for the comes because is whether he adds enough to their lineup to make him something of a longer term resident of the starting nine.
What could further his case in this matter is that, interestingly, Wisdom actually handles himself fairly well with the glove. I say this with somewhat of a surprised tone because hitters that profile like this have not been historically terrific on that side. But Wisdom’s UZR/150 at third this year sits at 4.5. He has an Outs Above Average of five, which puts him sixth among Major League third basemen this year. For context, he’s tied with Nolan Arenado there. And, for what it’s worth, he’s fallen on the positive side of the metrics at any position which he has appeared in 2021 (with the exception of first base where metrics hate any human that mans the post).
And that might be the real advantage for Wisdom as he hopes to maintain a place on this roster for the immediate future. Well, that and his contract. He’s under the infamous “team control” through 2026 and doesn’t even become arbitration eligible until 2024.
As difficult as it may be to believe, given the way things transpired at the trade deadline, the Cubs have to have a certain amount of Major League players in order to actually field a team. Even with the lack of impact talent on the roster, there are going to be at least a few holdovers among the Rafael Ortegas or Romine brothers of the world. For that part, Wisdom makes sense. The strikeout rate is not ideal, but it’s not as if there’s a wealth of power to go around this lineup, given that the two previously mentioned “future pieces” of Madrigal and Hoerner might combine for single digit homers.
There’s value in having a presence like that in your lineup. There does, of course, reach a point where a 40 percent strikeout rate becomes a rather, uh, large detriment to the team’s overall offensive output, but for a team that doesn’t necessarily care about run production in the present, it doesn’t hurt. Obviously moving forward, though, you’d like to retain him with the caveat that he cuts down on that K rate ever-so-slightly (and maybe conversely bumps up the 8.0 percent walk rate). Regardless of what some of that underlying stuff might look like, there isn’t any question as to whether the impact is there when he is able to make contact, and there remains a chance that some further developments could unfold.
And for Wisdom, it’s kind of an ideal situation. Given that he’s a fairly one-dimensional presence on the offensive side, there likely aren’t too many organizations who could have afforded to give him the run he’s received with the Cubs this year. It’s unlikely that Wisdom will have done enough on different facets of the game to have earned himself a run at the National League Rookie of the Year award. But, at the very least, he’s probably sewn up a spot for himself on at least the next couple of Cubs teams.
Randy Holt is a contributing writer for Beyond the Box Score.