Elite plate discipline makes Wade ideal 'table-setter' for Giants

July 28th, 2023

After Wednesday’s win over the A’s, the Giants entered Thursday’s off-day at 56-47, sitting atop the NL Wild Card standings by half a game and squarely in the mix for a postseason berth.

San Francisco has gotten this far without a ton of the star power that characterized the 2010s, in which the Giants won three World Series titles in five years. Madison Bumgarner hasn’t been in orange and black since 2019. Buster Posey retired after the 2021 season. Brandon Belt is now a Blue Jay.

New players have had to step up lately, and they have. Logan Webb leads the Majors in innings pitched. Alex Cobb and Camilo Doval were NL All-Stars in 2023. Rookie catcher Patrick Bailey is off to a strong start, and infielders Thairo Estrada and Wilmer Flores have had solid years.

But a key piece of the Giants’ success so far this season is flying under the radar: first baseman By Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement, Wade has been the Giants’ most valuable position player and a key cog in their lineup.

“He’s a table-setter for us,” third baseman said of Wade. “He gets on base, crushes the ball and is an elite defender at first base.”

The 29-year-old is putting his sharp batting eye on display, finding himself in excellent company. Through Wednesday’s games, Wade owns a .399 on-base percentage, up there with MLB’s elite hitters.

Highest on-base percentage, 2023

1. Luis Arraez, Marlins: .425
2. Juan Soto, Padres: .417
3. Freddie Freeman, Dodgers: .409
4. Ronald Acuña Jr., Braves: .407
5. Yandy Díaz, Rays: .401
6. LaMonte Wade Jr., Giants: .399

Here’s how Wade has found himself in the midst of a breakout season -- and how he’s helped put the Giants in the playoff picture.

An elite eye

Few hitters are seeing the ball better than Wade is in 2023.

With 59 walks so far in 2023, Wade is tied for ninth in MLB. His 16.8% walk rate ranks in the league’s 99th percentile. It’s easily Wade’s best season in terms of plate discipline -- but it’s nothing new for him.

In the Minor Leagues, Wade was known for his batting eye. He was a career .275/.391/.411 hitter in the Minors, drawing 327 walks against 300 strikeouts -- an impressive ratio.

“Anytime you can get on base, it’s a plus for me,” Wade told MLB.com recently. “I’m just trying to get on base and move the line, get in and score runs, let the guys behind me push me in.”

He shows particular skill on pitches up and away, where Wade sees more pitches than nearly anyone. Among left-handed hitters, only the Guardians’ Steven Kwan has seen more high and outside pitches; three switch-hitters have done so as well.

Most up-and-away pitches seen, 2023
1. Ozzie Albies, Braves: 341
2-T. Francisco Lindor, Mets: 304
2-T. Steven Kwan, Guardians: 304
4. Bryan Reynolds, Pirates: 291
5. LaMonte Wade Jr., Giants: 287

Wade has swung at only 11.1 percent of the pitches he’s seen in that zone, placing him among the top 20 left-handed hitters in the Majors. He’s wise to lay off: League-wide, left-handers are hitting only .181 against balls up and away in 2023; Wade, for his career, is hitting just .083.

It’s a sound strategy -- albeit one Wade says he wasn’t aware of.

“I haven’t really thought of it,” he said. “But that’s OK. Those are balls anyway. As long as I can stop and lay off that pitch, they eventually, I feel, have to come back to my zone, and I’ll get my pitches. The up-and-away pitches I don’t really handle very well anyway, so the fact that they’re doing that and I can take it, I think it’s going to be good.”

A tough 2022

Improved health has played a big role in Wade’s standout 2023.

The 2022 campaign was a difficult one for the Giants first baseman, who battled a left knee injury the whole year. Wade played in just 77 games for San Francisco, spending a majority of his time at Triple-A or on the shelf.

“Last year at this point, I wasn’t really on the field this much,” Wade said. “It was just back and forth from Sacramento and the IL.”

Wade didn’t make his 2022 debut until May 6, and after 10 games, he reinjured his knee and missed roughly six weeks.

Wade returned at the end of June and stayed off the injured list for the rest of the year, but he wasn’t himself. He hit just .207 for the season, got on base at just a .305 clip and slugged just .359.

He said battling the injury -- which first occurred in 2021 -- was “very frustrating,” affecting his ability to use his lower body to step to the ball and follow through on his swings.

“Any time you have injuries and you know you can’t really trust your knee and be able to do the move that you want to do the whole year, it’s frustrating and it’s hard to continue to try and work through it,” Wade said. “You know that it’s just going to keep messing up and it’s not going to be what you want it to be.”

Better than ever

That’s why Wade spent the offseason rehabbing his knee and working out, aiming to come back at full strength.

He’s had to battle through side tightness in June and a hamstring cramp in July, but Wade’s knee has remained strong -- and his game is back to full strength, too.

“I feel like I’m able to use my lower half better now,” Wade said. “If I can use my lower half, I can see the ball better. … When it’s rushed or I’m not on time with the pitcher or things are off, then I’m not going to swing at good pitches, and then that’s when I tend to chase. As long as the timing’s good, I think my eye’s pretty good.”

Wade’s slugging percentage has dipped from .482 in 2021 to .417 this season, but it’s about the only area in which he’s declined. His average and OPS are both better than his 2021 marks; in addition to the 73-point spike in his OBP from that campaign, Wade’s .371 expected wOBA, which measures his quality of contact as well as walk and strikeout rates, ranks in the 91st percentile in MLB.

Credit his improved health -- and his unique plate discipline -- for what has been Wade’s best year so far.

“I think it helps out a lot, especially if you can keyhole them to the zones where I handle the pitches the best,” Wade said. “If I can stay in those zones, I can put the barrel on the ball better, stop chasing pitches and putting weak contact. The more I’m in the zone and swinging at my pitches, I think the better I’ll be.”