After being treated like a hot potato by the Cardinals, Athletics, Phillies, and Blue Jays, Brett Wallace has finally found a home in Houston. He reached the majors last year and now sits upon the first base throne vacated by Lance Berkman at last year’s trade deadline. Through the first month of 2011, Wallace has a .383/.448/.543 triple-slash line that would make even the Puma proud. Wallace clearly isn’t this good — his line is heavily supported by a .466 BABIP — but that doesn’t mean we should just ignore it. Instead, let’s learn from the small sample and see what it can tell us about his performance moving forward.
Wallace’s horrid debut season, in which he posted a .272 wOBA and was exactly replacement level, left many, including myself, doubting Wallace’s ability to be a major league hitter, much less to have a bat play at first base. Wallace had shown that he could spray line drives across the field — particularly in the minor leagues, where he routinely posted BABIPs above .340. Concerns lingered about the rest of his game, however. Was there power? Plate discipline? Neither showed up, and he even had uncharacteristic struggles making contact, which is why he couldn’t even salvage an above-replacement year despite a .326 BABIP.
This year, the .446 BABIP is the rocket fuel behind Wallace’s line, but a space shuttle needs more than just fuel to get off the ground. His peripherals have come together this April — his ISO, BB%, and K% are all better than the league average as well, which portends well for when the rocket fuel runs out and his BABIP returns to normal level.
ZiPS’s projection for Wallace’s rest of 2011 has risen all the way to a .335 wOBA, which although not terribly special, is much better than the .321 projected back in March. Part of it is the fact that the peripherals have returned to a legitimate MLB level, the rest is that Wallace actually does have some of the traits that a high-BABIP player tends to have — a ton of line drives, and, more importantly, a consistent history of high BABIPs going all the way back to 2006 with the Cardinals Single-A team.
Unfortunately, Wallace is a first baseman, and even though his peripherals are above average, none of them are significantly better than most major leaguers. As such, Wallace’s bat doesn’t provide much value unless he turns out to be a J.T. Snow or Doug Mientkiewicz with the glove. He can still be a league average player with his skills — something that none of the projection systems and many of the scouts weren’t expecting after last year. Wallace’s fast start does give some amount of hope — the hope for a productive player — but hopes of a future star and cleanup hitter (a new Lance Berkman, say) are misguided. But at least it’s better than nothing.
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