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Patrick Wisdom was named NL Player of the Week. Can he sustain his performance?

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There aren’t many comps for players who have become solid performers at age 29.

Photo by Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

The Cubs’ Patrick Wisdom had himself a week, with numbers we haven’t really seen from anyone on the team in recent years.

From May 31-June 6 Wisdom hit .435/.458/1.261 (1.719 OPS, 10-for-23) with a double and six home runs.

For that excellent performance, Wisdom was named National League Player of the Week. He’s the second Cub to win the award this year. Kris Bryant received the honor for the week of April 26-May 2, when he hit .417/.500/1.042 (10-for-24) with three doubles and four home runs.

Among other accomplishments, Wisdom became the third player in MLB history to hit seven-or-more home runs in his first eight starts with a ballclub. The others: Aristides Aquino (2019) and Trevor Story (2016). In addition, his seven homers match Donnie Murphy (2013) for the most in a player’s first 15 games for the Cubs.

All of this raises an interesting question: Can all of this continue? Not at this level, of course, but can he become a major-league regular or star?

Wisdom is 29; he’ll turn 30 in August. Clearly, he had talent all the way back to the time he was drafted. He was a first-round pick (52nd overall, supplemental round) by the Cardinals in 2012. He got stalled in the Cardinals system, even while having a 31-homer season at Triple-A Memphis in 2017. He got just 50 at-bats for St. Louis in 2018, hitting four home runs. Then he had another 31-homer season at Triple-A for the Rangers in 2019 — in just 107 games.

So he’s bounced around, and only now is he getting a chance to play every day due to several Cubs injuries.

Can Wisdom sustain this performance? There have been other Cubs players who have been minor-league sluggers who have had hot streaks in the big leagues, only to return to the minors or go elsewhere with no real MLB success. Jake Fox comes to mind; called up at age 27 in 2009 due to an injury to Aramis Ramirez, Fox had a 19-game stretch in which he hit .338/.373/.647 (23-for-68) with six doubles and five home runs. But for the rest of 2009, Fox hit just .215/.276/.385 (28-for-130). He wound up traded to the Athletics, bounced around to Baltimore, and was out of MLB after 2012.

What about other players who had long minor-league careers with success at that level but who never got a real shot to play in the big leagues until they were around 29 or 30, and then put together several good years?

It happens, but the number of players who do anything like this is very, very small.

I can think of two recent players who had minor-league careers similar to Wisdom’s who had some good MLB years.

Ryan Ludwick was drafted by the Athletics in the second round in 1999. Traded to the Rangers in 2002, he played in a few games for them that year without much success, then was swapped to Cleveland in 2003, playing for them briefly in 2003, 2004 and 2005, again with little success.

It took two more years and two more organizations before Ludwick made it to the big leagues again, in 2007 with the Cardinals. He played reasonably well as a part-time guy for St. Louis that year, then had a breakout year in 2008: .299/.375/.591 with 37 home runs. He finished 16th in NL MVP voting that year, then had four more good-to-decent years before injuries finally did him in.

I’d put Justin Turner in this category too. Drafted in the seventh round by the Reds in 2006, Turner was traded to the Orioles two years later. Baltimore gave him 17 games worth of MLB playing time before trading him to the Mets. Turner did play somewhat regularly for the Mets for parts of four seasons (2010-13) before departing as a free agent and signing with the Dodgers. He started hitting almost right away — .340/.404/.493 in 322 PA in 2014, then hitting for more power as he got more playing time in LA at age 30 in 2015. At 36, Turner is still a productive player for the Dodgers in 2021.

What can we project about Patrick Wisdom from these two players? Probably nothing. First, as noted, this is vanishingly rare. I couldn’t think of more than Ludwick and Turner among players in the last 20 years who became stars at age 30 or later. Granted, Wisdom was a No. 1 pick, there was talent there from the beginning. On the other hand, despite Wisdom’s fantastic run over the last week, he did strike out 10 times in those 23 at-bats. It’s probably far too small of a sample size to make any real judgments from. (It should also be noted that in his final four games for Triple-A Iowa before being called up, Wisdom hit .364/.588/1.273 (4-for-11) with a double, three home runs and five walks.)

Regardless, I do think that Wisdom deserves a longer look. When all the injured Cubs return to action, I believe the Cubs ought to find a place for him to play, at least for a while, so they can see if this sort of hitting is a for-real change, or a mirage. Maybe it’s the latter. But if it’s for real, the Cubs might have found themselves a player on the scrap heap.

Lastly, if you are interested, the folks at Breaking T created a T-shirt to celebrate Patrick Wisdom’s big week. You can order yours here.

Poll

Where will Patrick Wisdom go from here?

This poll is closed

  • 7%
    All-Star level performance the rest of this year and for a few years going forward
    (25 votes)
  • 32%
    Good enough to be a MLB regular for 4-5 years
    (115 votes)
  • 43%
    Good enough to be a MLB backup for 4-5 years
    (156 votes)
  • 15%
    A flash in the pan, he’ll be back in the minors to stay soon
    (56 votes)
  • 1%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (5 votes)
357 votes total Vote Now