Wisdom's goal: Same boom with less bust

September 23rd, 2021

CHICAGO -- When saw his name slotted into the cleanup spot this past Sunday -- one day after he struck out four times in Milwaukee -- the Cubs slugger gave himself an internal pep talk.

"You're like, 'Well, they still believe in me,'" Wisdom said, "'I've got to believe in myself.' It's kind of like a gut check."

The Cubs have offered Wisdom a long runway of opportunity this summer, giving him the chance to show off prodigious power while living with a historic rate of punchouts. It has led to one of the more unique rookie seasons in Major League history.

Wisdom rewarded the team's show of faith Sunday. He launched a three-run homer that not only was a key in the Cubs' 6-4 win over the Brewers but gave him Chicago's rookie record (27). He also struck out four more times.

There has been a lot of boom to make up for the busts.

"The way I look at it," Cubs manager David Ross said, "he's definitely extremely valuable with what he brings to the table. I think you're always trying to work on being better.

"We don't want to stop and just give in to the swing and miss, and [not] try to improve that. But I also don't want to lose that thump."

That is the issue Wisdom will try to tackle this offseason, with 2022 in mind. How can he address his weakness (strikeouts) without sacrificing his strength (power)?

"That's a golden question," Wisdom said. "And I think if I had a definite answer, I would share it and I would obviously do it and attack it."

As far as the strikeouts go:

• Wisdom's four-strikeout showing against the Twins on Wednesday gave him seven games with at least four punchouts this season, tying the MLB record (Dick Allen in 1968).

• Wisdom's strikeout rate of 40.9 percent is the highest in MLB this year (minimum 250 plate appearances). Using that same PA threshold, it's also the highest in modern history (since 1901). Second: Chris Davis' 39.5 percent in 2019.

What Wisdom has done, however, is slug enough to overcome the whiffs:

• Among the 10 highest single-season strikeout rates in history, only Joey Gallo (3.3 in 2019) had a higher WAR (via Fangraphs) than Wisdom's 2.3 this year. Wisdom has a 118 OPS+ (indicating that he has performed 18 percent above the MLB average offensively).

• Wisdom's .287 isolated power ranks 11th in MLB (min. 250 PAs) -- right behind Kyle Schwarber (.295), Vladimir Guerrero Jr. (.294) and Joey Votto (.293).

That extreme offensive profile has led to drastic hot and cold streaks for Wisdom.

He homered in nine of his first 20 games, and he had nine in a 16-game stretch from Aug. 10-28. Then, following back-to-back multihomer games on Aug. 27-28 against the White Sox, Wisdom slipped into a 5-for-45 spell before homering again.

"If you understand the failures as a learning opportunity," Wisdom said, "as a learning tool, and use it to your benefit, I think you come out on the other side better and stronger.

"But you've also got to understand what you're doing well."

Wisdom will take all of it -- the good and the bad -- into this offseason with the goal of maximizing what he does well and improving the weak areas. That will mean, as one example, some drills to improve against fastballs in the upper part of the strike zone.

Wisdom also believes he can improve his two-strike approach, though Cubs hitting coach Anthony Iapoce feels there is more to it than avoiding that last strike. There are more opportunities before that point, especially for a player like Wisdom who has seen 4.37 pitches per plate appearance this year.

"It's really improving on getting better early in the count," Iapoce said. "Everybody always talks about two-strike approach, but I think a lot of times we don't talk about how a guy gets there. Is he chasing early? Is he not being aggressive? Is he being too patient?

"So I think at the end of the year, for him moving forward, he can sit back after this year, because it's been such a whirlwind season, take a look at those things and figure out how he can get better earlier in the count."

And Wisdom can begin that process knowing the Cubs believe he can stick as a legitimate power threat in the heart of their lineup.

"I don't think this organization gives anybody anything," Ross said. "I don't think we should. I think guys should have to earn their way into the lineup and continue to try to get better.

"I think Patrick's done that. When you have success and you're able to get off to a great start and do a lot of good things, it's also our job to stick by you and show confidence in you."