Joey Wendle was an MLB All-Star just two years ago and a key cog of the Miami Marlins lineup in early 2022. Entering this season, the Marlins projected Wendle and his lifetime 100 wRC+ as their primary shortstop, counting on somewhat of a bounce back from him after battling several minor injuries. There were moderate expectations placed on his shoulders, and he had ample motivation to meet those expectations as a first-time pending free agent.
After yet another IL stint (right intercostal strain) and a mediocre month of May, Wendle began looking a lot like his usual self. The 33-year-old’s signature series came against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park (June 27-29), going 8-for-12 at the plate en route to a Miami sweep. His batting average peaked at .290. He was on pace for 1.4 fWAR, slightly better than his previous season.
Then the All-Star break arrived. The second half of Wendle’s 2023 campaign has been one of the most severe slumps you’ll ever see from a reputable hitter who supposedly has something left in the tank. And the Marlins cannot afford to tip-toe around it any longer.
Wendle has a slash line of .139/.176/.178 since the break. That’s a .354 OPS in those 39 games for somebody whose OPS has never dipped below .514 during any other 39-game stretch of his career!
It is also the lowest half-season OPS in Marlins history (min. 100 PA). Placing second on that notorious list is the first half of Chris Coghlan’s 2012 season, though that was interrupted by a demotion to the minors. The closest comp to what Wendle is doing would have to be the second half of Joe Panik’s 2021 season…which led him directly into retirement.
What has gone so wrong for Wendle? Well, his batting average on balls in play has been halved, from .350 pre-ASB to .171 post-ASB. That is problematic when you have zero home runs to compensate for it. Although it’s discouraging to see an increase in his groundball rate and a reduction in his walk rate amid this slump, those tendencies did not hold him back from being serviceable in 2022. Clearly, there is some degree of bad luck involved here.
However, making Wendle’s futility more baffling is the fact that the Marlins have carefully platooned him. About 90% of the left-handed batter’s plate appearances have come against righties, yet for the first time since his debut season, he’s exhibiting reverse splits. There are no tasty matchups for him—he is nearly two months removed from his last multi-hit game.
Wendle has historically fared well against offspeed pitches like changeups and splitters. Not so much recently. Wendle has zero hits against those pitch types since July 15. It’s been a combination of chasing some of them below the strike zone and mistiming his swing on others that stay up. Opponents have noticed and responded by attacking him with offspeed stuff way more frequently.
Whenever a relatively steady veteran like Wendle plummets to sub-replacement level production, it’s worth mentioning the possibility that he is grinding through some kind of injury. Whatever the true explanation, there is nothing to suggest that he’s close to turning a corner.
I don’t think that the Marlins will nor should cut Wendle. He is the best defensive shortstop on their active roster, and by all accounts, a positive clubhouse influence.
That being said, the days of Wendle as the strong side of Miami’s SS platoon need to end immediately. The value of his glove does not come close to offsetting the superior offense—hitting and baserunning—that Jon Berti and Garrett Hampson provide. With each of their 25 remaining regular season games being so crucial, the Marlins ought to bench Wendle. I would only start him when both Berti and Hampson are unavailable due to rest or covering at non-SS positions.
What do you think?
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