LaMonte Wade Jr. Has Been a Difference-Maker

LaMonte Wade Jr. was hardly a household name coming into this season, just another roster hopeful buried on the Giants’ depth charts. But like several other pickups by the Giants in recent years — players coming off lousy seasons elsewhere, or ones who had never gotten a full shot in their previous organizations — he’s become an essential contributor this season. Despite barely playing in the majors before the end of May, he’s tied for fourth on the team in home runs, and has shown a penchant for collecting timely late-inning hits.

Wade’s most recent big hit came on Tuesday night. Facing the possibility of dropping into a tie with the Dodgers atop the National League West, the Giants clawed their way back from an early 4-1 deficit against the Padres before Wade drove in the go-ahead run in the ninth inning with a bloop single off ex-Giant Mark Melancon:

That was the seventh time since June that a Wade hit put the Giants in the lead in the eighth inning or later, which is tied with five other players for the major league lead. All of them — namely Michael Conforto, Aaron Judge, Austin Meadows, Jorge Polanco, and Kyle Seager — have at least 96 more plate appearances than he does, and all of those hits helped the Giants win those games. Here’s the supercut:

Note that two of those hits — in the 10th inning on May 28, and the ninth inning on July 22 — came at the expense of the Dodgers’ Kenley Jansen. Without those, it might be the Dodgers holding onto a one-game lead over the Giants (not to mention a 10-9 season series advantage) with nine games to play instead of the other way around. Wade has been a difference-maker in the NL West race.

Wade is hitting .351/.439/.544 in 67 PA in September, and that’s hardly the wildest of his splits (we’ll get to those later). The 27-year-old lefty-swinging outfielder is currently hitting .269/.344/.518 (131 wRC+) with 18 homers in 349 PA overall. He stands as yet another testament to the roster-building acumen of president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, as a player plucked out of the weeds of another organization and given his first extended shot at playing time. Throw in an offseason swing change that has turned him into a legitimate power threat, and you’ve got a Bay Area analogue to the likes of Justin Turner, Chris Taylor, and Max Muncy, guys who went from roster flotsam to central contributors for the Dodgers, with whom Zaidi spent four years (November 2014 to November ’18) as general manager before taking the Giants’ job.

A ninth-round draft pick by the Twins out of the University of Maryland in 2015, Wade demonstrated a keen batting eye in the minors, consistently putting up high on-base percentages — .428 in Rookie ball, .393 in A-ball, .386 at High-A, .394 at Double-A, .371 at Triple-A — and good contact rates. Yet despite his sturdy build (6-foot-1, 189 pounds in the minors, 205 now), he didn’t generate consistent power, maxing out at 11 home runs in 495 PA split between Double- and Triple-A in 2018. Still, the combination of his hit tool, plate discipline, and above-average defense suggested a future role as the larger half of a corner outfield platoon. Carson Cistulli included him on a Fringe Five list in 2018, writing that Wade “should have probably appeared in every edition of this column” since being drafted while noting that he walked more often than he struck out. As a 40 Future Value prospect, he placed 16th on the Twins’ list in 2019 and 27th in 2020.

Wade saw a smattering of playing time with the Twins in both of those seasons. In 2019, he played just two games in late June and early July before dislocating his right thumb, and didn’t return to the majors until September, while last season, he shuttled back and forth between the alternate site and the big club. Even with his chances often tied to Byron Buxton’s endless litany of injuries, Wade was basically buried in the depth chart below fellow lefty-swinger Jake Cave. He hit .211/.336/.347 (90 wRC+) in 113 PA over those two seasons, starting 26 times and coming off the bench another 15 times. He walked 13.3% of the time while striking out just 15.9%, but barreled just two out of 77 batted balls (2.6%).

On February 4, the Twins traded Wade to the Giants for 26-year-old righty reliever Shaun Anderson, a move so minor it didn’t get covered at FanGraphs. He didn’t make the Giants out of spring training, but was called up on April 11, when Jaylin Davis injured his knee — only to suffer a strained oblique after playing just three games. Returning a month later, he played just two more games before being optioned when Alex Dickerson came off the injured list, but was recalled on May 27 when Darin Ruf hit the IL. With both Ruf and Brandon Belt down simultaneously, Wade initially platooned with Wilmer Flores at first base, and opened some eyes by homering three times in a six-start span from May 31 to June 6. He’s been playing regularly in a multiposition platoon capacity since, making 33 starts in right field, 23 at first base, 16 in left field, and two in center.

Given the timing of the trade, the Twins missed out on seeing the winter work Wade had put in to add some pop to his swing. Reuniting with Maryland assistant coach Matt Swope, he realized that the plane of his swing was too flat. Swope, who told MLB.com’s Maria Guardado in August, “I felt what the Twins wanted LaMonte to do was taking him out of the athleticism that he naturally has,” helped Wade scrap his crouched stance in favor of a more upright position. Here’s one side-by-side comparison:

“I think his past swings, he was more stuck on his back side,” said Swope. “Him being stuck on his back side was causing him to spin and over-rotate a lot. It was causing all types of issues — pull-side ground balls and flares the other way. We just tried to get him a little stronger in the base and try to get a better forward move so he can start to attack balls more out in front, per se. What we saw with that was his athleticism, his posture and his swing plane automatically started to clean up.”

“We had a pretty clear understanding of his strike zone judgment and his style at the plate,” manager Gabe Kapler told MLB.com. “Pretty good plate discipline. I think what we didn’t know was that the power was going to show up like it has.”

Indeed, using Statcast’s numbers, Wade has chased just 22.4% of pitches outside the zone, which places him in the 83rd percentile, but his power has shown up, as he’s consistently hit the ball hard. Here’s a comparison of his Statcast numbers from his brief time in Minnesota versus this year:

LaMonte Wade Jr. Batted Ball Profile
Season GB/FB GB% Pull% EV LA Barrel% HH% AVG xBA SLG xSLG wOBA xwOBA
2019-20 1.07 41.6% 37.7% 87.3 13.0 2.6% 36.4% .211 .235 .347 .366 .306 .326
2021 0.74 32.0% 48.7% 90.4 19.2 10.8% 43.1% .269 .263 .518 .486 .365 .356

Wade is elevating the ball more than in his days with the Twins, and pummeling it regularly. His hard-hit rate places him in the 65th percentile, his average exit velocity in the 71st percentile, his barrel rate in the 72nd percentile, his xSLG in the 82nd percentile — and he’s exceeding expectations in that department. It helps that Kapler has limited Wade’s exposure to lefties to just four starts and 40 PA; he’s 4-for-35 with two walks, two doubles, and 13 strikeouts against southpaws.

Such is the potency of Wade’s bat that his 5.2% home run rate (home runs per plate appearance) ranks second on the Giants behind Belt (7.1% while setting a career high with 26 homers) and 20th among NL batters with at least 300 PA. Not too shabby for a player who entered last year with 45-grade raw power and 30-grade game power.

As alluded to previously, Zaidi and the Giants have scored numerous hits in recent years with pickups like Wade. Mike Yastrzemski was a a rookie at 28 and an MVP candidate at 29. Donovan Solano had barely hit a lick in his 20s, but finished fifth in batting average last year at age 32. Ruf has hit for a 143 wRC+ in two seasons since coming back from a three-year stint in the KBO. On the pitching side, Kevin Gausman, Anthony DeSclafani, Alex Wood, and Dominic Leone have each flourished after working their way back from miserable seasons. For the most part, anyone could have had those players, but it’s the Giants who have them. As much as the core of players with links to the team’s past glories — Belt, Buster Posey, Brandon Crawford — these guys have helped send San Francisco to the playoffs.

As if Wade hadn’t already created an outsized footprint for himself, he has been especially clutch for the Giants, as The Athletic’s Andrew Baggarly and Grant Brisbee have both noted recently. Using FanGraphs’ numbers, Wade is seventh in the majors in WPA at 3.62, and now leads in our Clutch stat, which “measures how much better or worse a player does in high leverage situations than he would have done in a context neutral environment.”

Wade’s splits, small sample though they may be, are just ridiculous, the stuff of cartoon superheroes. He’s hit .375/.413/.696 in 124 PA with men on base (but just .208/.307/.416 with the bases empty), .379/.408/.652 in 71 PA with runners in scoring position, .356/.442/.511 in 52 PA in close-and-late situations, .412/.426/.667 in 56 PA in high-leverage situations, and .423/.483/.923 in 29 PA with two outs and runners in scoring position.

That kind of stuff isn’t sustainable, but it happened, and it helped the Giants bank some of the wins that have pushed them to the majors’ best record. If they can hold off the Dodgers — and our Playoff Odds give them a 58.5% chance of doing so — they’ll not only avoid the Wild Card game but also retain home-field advantage for as long as they’re in the playoffs. Without Wade’s timely work, they might not be in this position.





Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe.

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jamesdakrn
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jamesdakrn

He scares me the most out of all the Giants players for the postseason.

God this NL West race has been a bloodbath