When University of Houston catcher Chris Wallace was plucked by the Astros in the 16th round of the 2010 Rule 4 draft, expectations were muted. He was a nice pick who might provide some organizational depth, but wasn't expected to be one of the catchers of the future.
That's before he got to short-season ball and went crazy, hitting .317/.396/.554 between two different short-season clubs with 17 home runs in 371 plate appearances. Those numbers are phenomenal and made people take notice of him. It also got Wallace assigned to Low-A Lexington to start the 2011 season. He also started quickly there, joining Telvin Nash in that infamous "Bash Brothers"-style game where they each hit three home runs and Wallace drove in 9 RBIs.
The question, though, is whether Wallace is for real. Is this surge since hitting pro ball sustainable, or is he just an older player taking advantage of his competition level? I'm not sure I'll be able to answer that question, but we will look at his batting this season to see his tendencies and whether he's due for regression at the plate.
First off, I did something a little different with Wallace. Instead of just charting all his line drives, ground balls and fly balls, I split them out by home and away, then totaled them up. This would give me a better indication of how Wallace is generating his power and what kind of hitter he is.
As always, the results were very informative, if a little too sparse to draw too many conclusions. The first, most obvious conclusion is that Wallace is a dead-pull hitter* (edit: Since he's right-handed, Wallace is more of an opposite field hitter, which means he's pretty advanced in his approach to hit this many to the opposite field). He's hit about the same number of balls to right and left, but has a .517 average on balls he pulls to right and a .280 average on balls to left.
His hot start is also been done on the back of plenty of line drives. That wasn't the case at the beginning of April, when Wallace was more likely to hit fly balls than line drives at home. After going on an extended road trip in the middle of the month, Wallace started finding his stroke. He was hitting the ball with more authority and picking up more line drives.
I have two theories on this. First, since he went through a couple of different parks on that road trip, the official scorers there could have been more liberal on line drive and fly ball classifications. The other is that they were more consistent and the Lexington official scorer is more reluctant to label things as line drives.
That last part kind of got shot down for me, though, when Wallace returned home from his road trip and hit seven of his nine line drives at home in the space of a few games. That's why I say Wallace must've gotten locked in at the tail end of that road trip. His line has tailed off in recent games, but that's more a factor of his line drives being hit right at people and not that he's stopped hitting the ball with authority.
Wallace doesn't have wonky home/road splits, except for two elements. First, he strikes out a ton more at home than on the road. It's just a few game sample,but 15 strikeouts at home compared to three on the road feels significant. The other thing is Wallace was much more likely to hit home runs on the road (where he hit six of his seven) than at home. This may explain why that is, considering most of Wallace's power is to the right side and that right field area looks like it might be harder to hit balls out over that big wall in right center.
For the strikeouts, though, we'll have to look at his hitting in the batting order. I don't think it's as significant that he strikes out more at home, but that he's batted in the cleanup spot more at home. That's where he's struck out 11 of his 18 times this season and where he has his lowest slash line of all his spots. Wallace was moved up to the three hole early in the season and immediately took off. When he started tailing off a bit there, he was bumped down to fifth and got back on track. Recently, he was bumped back to fourth and started striking out again. It's too early to see if this is a trend, but it's these kinds of things I'm sure managers worry about when they're filling out that lineup card.
Back on point, though. Wallace has a nice overall breakdown on his batted ball types. 41 percent are ground balls, 22 percent are line drives and 36.7 are fly balls. Wallace seems to have trouble getting around on balls inside from time to time and is vulnerable to easy groundouts to the left side of the infield, consequently. He's very adept at hitting fly balls for a high average, but that's where I worry a regression is due.
Most fly ball averages are around .200-.300, while Wallace is living at .640 right now. His overall batting average on balls in play is at .426, which is manageable in a way just because of his away stats. At home, it's an even higher .469, which suggests he due to regress and soon. I suspect that average will fall and it'll start falling with his fly balls. His increase in line drives may mitigate that, but for now, it looks like Wallace won't hit close to .400 for the season. Surprise, surprise.
For now, the jury's out. The way Wallace has hit this season, he seems to not really be a fluke, but has a chance to be show legitimate power. If we're still seeing these numbers in the middle of June, I'll feel a whole lot better.