Making a Quick Defense of Patrick Wisdom

Among the pantheon of Cubs players who’ve been unfairly maligned, few come close to Patrick Wisdom when it comes to being judged on a single facet of his game. Many of those tried and convicted in the court of public opinion are prosecuted on the basis of their big salaries, as we saw with Jason Heyward and Alfonso Soriano. Pete Crow-Armstrong has been accused of having no bat after just 19 trips to the plate, though he at least has time to make up for that lack of experience.

Wisdom, on the other hand, sees the highly subjective scales of justice tipped against him as the result of his strikeouts. Overall production be damned, the amateur prosecutors argue, those whiffs blow away all other metrics indicating Wisdom’s positive impact. In almost every case, it’s a matter of eschewing statistical data in favor of confirmation and/or recency bias.

It doesn’t help that Wisdom was thrust into the spotlight during a season that saw several Cubs luminaries traded away as the team stumbled through multiple double-digit losing streaks. He and Frank Schwindel took up the mantle as fan favorites, and failing to match the production from his rookie year put Wisdom in a no-win situation among those who view his production sans (proper) context.

What’s really funny about all of this is that he’s actually struck out less and walked more in each of the last two seasons than when he burst onto the scene in 2021. But he also had lower batting averages in those more recent campaigns, so he must be bad.

When we turn the focus away from strikeouts and batting average, however, it’s pretty clear that Wisdom is a solid producer who serves a clear role on what should be a competitive team. Averaging 25 homers is enough all on its own to be worth far more than the $2.725 million he’s earning this year, so the conversation could stop there.

Wisdom has posted at least a 104 wRC+ and 0.7 fWAR in each of his three seasons with the Cubs, meaning he’s been above average and better than a replacement player. And even though we’re talking about a little under two additional wins over the last two years, that’s a far cry from the widely-held perception that his temporary or permanent absence would make the Cubs better.

There’s also a belief that his production comes only when the game is out of hand or the results don’t really matter. While data from last season does skew toward better numbers in low-leverage and bases-empty situations, the opposite is true for 2021 and ’22. For his career, Wisdom’s 147 wRC+ in what FanGraphs deems high-leverage situations far outpaces his 122 in medium leverage and 89 in low leverage. His 108 wRC+ in high leverage is right in line with his 105 in medium and 111 in low.

The simple fact of the matter is that expecting Wisdom to hit .250 with 35 bombs is foolish and can only lead to disappointment. However, labeling him as bad or unproductive just because he strikes out a lot is even foolisher. Yeah, I said what I said. Wisdom is a solid player who makes a ton of sense as a cheap power bench bat who can slot in at a few different positions for a team that could use a little pop.

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