In his age 25 season, an infielder named Wallace slashed .295/.357/.454, en route to a Hall of Fame career. Bobby Wallace played a quarter century for the Cleveland Spiders, St. Louis Perfectos, St. Louis Browns and St. Louis Cardinals before hanging up his spikes in 1918.
In Houston, we also have an infielder named Wallace. That would be Brett, and to put it kindly, the jury is still out on his Hall of Fame credentials.
Few players have drawn as much off-season criticism as Brett Wallace, and that's not simply because of the lackluster statistics he's posted as a Major League ballplayer. No, a good deal of the negative talk about Wallace probably stems from the lingering hopes that despite what we've seen so far, we might yet get the player who was a first-round draft choice for Jeff Luhnow when he still drew his paycheck from the St. Louis Cardinals. The invective from fans might actually be less if we'd already written him off. It's just that the performance has yet to match the promise.
Wallace was a man without a position last year, as Carlos Lee and Chris Johnson started the season as the corner infielders. Wallace didn't see Houston until early June, shuttling between Oklahoma City and the big club before finishing the season with disappointing slash totals of .253/.323/.424.
A look at Fangraphs' section on plate discipline shows that Wallace was simply swinging and missing at too many pitches, including pitches outside the zone, which could indicate that he's having trouble with pitch identification at the major league level.
Defensively, Wallace also failed to impress, posting below-average UZR numbers for his glove work at first and third.
But take heart, because it wasn't all bad news!
I was expecting a sort of Terrible Trifecta for Wallace, but according to Bill James, Wallace actually notched positive results as a base runner, recording a +5 net for 11 different base-running categories. It's not that he recorded a lot of positives, but at least there wasn't much on the negative side of the ledger. Interestingly, Wallace bounced into just two double plays last year in 43 opportunities. Way to go, big guy!
If we believe everything we've read, retooling Wallace's swing is one of the first projects for new hitting coach John Mallee, and according to the Astros brass, results so far are positive. Those with good memories will recall reading similar words from another Astros hitting coach, so perhaps we should take it all with a grain of salt. Will an improved swing help Wallace's possible deficiencies in pitch recognition? We shall see.
Wallace is a big man, but he was noticeably leaner last year than after his first season in a Houston uniform, and that trend appears to be continuing this season, as he's looked well-conditioned at spring training. And at the time this story was written, Wallace was putting up good numbers in the Grapefruit League, but we know not to put too much stock in that.
No one doubts that Wallace needs to show something this year. He's not old by any stretch, but the fan base's patience is wearing thin. Expectations remain high for Wallace, given his status as a first-round draft pick, and the fact that he came to us as one of several moving parts in the Roy Oswalt trade.
There are plenty of other bodies in camp to provide competition, though the move to the American League possibly gives Wallace a new opportunity at DH.
It's easy to be negative about Wallace's chances. And yet, there's something about him that keeps me from throwing up my hands in frustration. Personally speaking, despite the lack of good results, I never get that sense of impending doom when I see Wallace stride to the plate, and I can't say that about everyone. To me, Wallace looks like he has an idea when he's standing in the batter's box, and I keep thinking that one day soon it's all going to start clicking for him.
Is this the year Brett Wallace finally embarks upon a career like the one Bobby Wallace had? It's highly unlikely that we'll ever see Brett's visage on a plaque in Cooperstown, but I haven't given up hope that he can become a solid major league player.