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Player Review: Brett Wisely

A historic season.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at Washington Nationals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

2023 stats: 51 G, 131 PA, .175/.231/.267 (.498 OPS), 6.9 BB%, 30.5 K%, 38 wRC+

The fact that we’re talking about Brett Wisely right now is a bit problematic. If you were to go back in time to last January and whisper in the ear of your past self that Brett Wisely would get 130 plate appearances in 2023, you’d probably slump your shoulders and nod numbly in knowing defeat. It’s not a ton, but more than enough. Chances are Wisely logging nearly 245 defensive innings at second base and nearly 100 in the outfield indicates the San Francisco Giants’ season didn’t quite go as planned.

The plan was Thairo Estrada not fracturing his hand; the plan was to have centerfield not be a black hole of mediocrity indiscriminately pulling veteran and prospect alike into its center; the plan was Brandon Crawford’s swan song not to pitch flat; the plan was for most midseason call-ups not to look completely bamboozled by big league pitching; while the plan for Brett Wisely was as a bench bat, late-inning defensive replacement, a spot start against a right-hander to give Estrada a breather, a closer in a blow-out, a quadruple-A player. He was the result of a trade with Tampa Bay in November, the time of year when no one is thinking about trades. A young utility infielder who could play center and had the added intrigue of hitting from the left-side of the plate who just slashed .274/.371/.461 in AA—why the hell not?

Wisely ended up making the Opening Day roster, playing center field at Yankee Stadium for two innings in his MLB debut before being optioned down to Sacramento the next day. After a decent offensive showing in AAA, he returned to the big league club for the series in Miami and was sent back down a week later with a Major League batting average—.071 to be precise—to make room for the arrival of Mitch Haniger. Hallelujah, hallelu!

May ended up being his big month in terms of opportunity. Wisely traveled to Mexico as the club’s extra-man in that weekend series, then subsequent Injuries to Yaz, Brandon Crawford and Thairo Estrada meant Wisely became a part of our lives. Shuffling between second and center, the 24 year old played 13 complete games while starting 18 and accumulating 64 plate appearances over the month. He didn’t do much with the chances, only hitting .213/.246/.361 over the month with 16 strikeouts and just 3 walks.

He popped a homer against Milwaukee on the 6th for his first career long ball and then hit another in Milwaukee three weeks later. On the field, he committed three errors across two games against the Twins and Brewers before closing out a blowout against the Pirates from the mound and taking a homer away from Baltimore’s Aaron Hicks without a cleat leaving the warning track in center.

As the Giants embarked on their most impressive run of the season, Wisely was in Sacramento and didn’t leave until the magic ran out. A fractured hand sent Estrada to the IL and Wisely became the left-side of a scuffling platoon with Casey Schmitt. Another month passed with little sign of offensive life. Wisely went 0-for-3 in his last game against Boston on July 28th, going 5 for 38 with 6 total bases in the stretch, as the ashes of his season came to rest on an meager .175/.231/.267/.498 “slash” line.

In the Wild Card era, only 5 Giants have finished a season with an OPS under .500 (min. 100 plate appearances). Wisely’s .498 mark came just short of Nick Noonan’s illustrious 2013 campaign, while Juan Perez (.494 in 2014) and consecutive seasons from Emmanuel Burriss (.465 in 2011 and .491 in 2012) still take the dry, sat-on cake. His 38 OPS+ adjusted to the rest of the league is the second lowest since 1995. Expanding out to the entire San Francisco era, the list is a who’s who of endearing, rake-thin middle infielders: Ernie Bowman, Johnnie LeMaster, Mike Benjamin, Joey Amalfitano, Hal Lanier, Duane Kuiper…

As much as it feels like we are living in enlightened times in which a net-positive is wrung from each of the thousands of plate appearances (through the science of Statcast!), cardboard cutouts still get propped up in the box often enough. Wisely’s OPS was the 25th lowest in the Majors over these past two years. It’s a long season, long enough to roll with temporary fixes and band-aids for a time, but gone are the days when someone like Hal Lanier will post consecutive seasons (1967-68) of a sub-.500 OPS and still get more than 1,000 chances to swing a bat. And if we take a closer look at this more current list, it’s populated by a lot of Tigers, Royals, and Athletics, a lot of back-up catchers, a lot of guys named Austin. Successful teams playing consequential games don’t waste a ton of precious ABs on struggling players like Brett Wisely, even if his lefty swing gives him a perceived match-up advantage.

The front office did the sensible thing of cutting Wisely off by August, but they shouldn’t shoulder all the blame for the extended opportunities provided before that. Each time Wisely was optioned, he performed well in Sacramento. In 67 games and 280 PA, he hit .285/ .417/ .466 (.883 OPS) with a significantly lower K%, more than double BB%, and a nearly double ISO than his numbers in San Francisco. He was another hot hand, like Wade Meckler or Casey Schmitt, who unfortunately went corpse-cold once decked in orange-and-black. Is that anyone’s fault other than the player? J’accuse Dustin Lind, head of hitting development, or Justin Viele or Pedro Guerrero? Things do seem to be different post-2021. I wonder what Donnie Ecker has been up to lately?

At the end of the day, San Francisco’s middle infield was clearly an issue last season and doesn’t appear to be in less dire straits. Marco Luciano, Casey Schmitt, Tyler Fitzgerald, Wisely—none of them promise to be sultans of swing, but rather a bevy of options that feel less like solutions and more like potential problems. According to Fangraphs roster projections, Wisely is the infield bench option next season, which shouldn’t fill anyone with a ton of confidence. Nor should the front office signing old pal Donovan Walton, another lefty infielder, to a minor league deal as a back-up plan to the back-up plan. There has been recent speculation of a Ha-Seong Kim trade, but it has also been reported that if another player is acquired, it’s not going to cannon-ball the infield. As Brady aptly synthesized: “the Giants are looking for a young middle infielder who still has options, and is bad enough that the Giants could actually use those options.”

The funny thing is they already have that: his name is Brett Wisely.