LaMonte Wade Jr. was a revelation for the SF Giants in 2021. However, Wade has been unable to build off that success this season. As Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi looks for areas on the roster to improve this offseason, will Wade find himself as an odd man out?
Acquired prior to last season from the Minnesota Twins in exchange for right-handed pitcher Shaun Anderson, Wade emerged as a clutch performer and fan favorite in San Francisco's 107-win campaign. He hit .253/.326/.482 with 18 home runs in 381 plate appearances, almost entirely against right-handed pitching. His penchant for big hits earned him the nickname Late Night LaMonte.
Heading into his age-28 season this year, Wade seemed like a critical part of the Giants' core. Instead, he has posted a well below-average .191/.286/.371 triple-slash in 205 plate appearances this season.
Most concerningly, Wade's poor performance has tracked into nearly every facet of his offensive game. Even with the platoon advantage against right-handed pitching, he is hitting just .204/.305/.415. It seemed like Wade was starting to turn a corner following the All-Star break, but he has been unable to post a .750 OPS in any month.
Despite the struggles, several of Wade's peripheral numbers remain solid. His strikeout and walk rates are above average. In addition, his barrel rate, average exit velocity, sweet spot rate, and maximum exit velocity are right in line with his previous numbers. Yet, his expected batting average has dropped from .256 to .209 and his expected slugging percentage has fallen from .459 to .406.
Expected statistics are far from perfect and often overestimate the performance of hitters who are easier to shift. Still, they can be quite helpful in noticing trends with individual hitters.
But why have Wade's expected numbers dropped? Well, he seems to be hitting the ball too high. Wade's launch angle has jumped from 19.8 degrees to 23.7 degrees. While hitters across baseball have prioritized elevating the ball in recent years, Wade seems to have gone too far this season. His fly-ball rate has spiked from 31.5% in 2021 to 41.9% this season, while his line-drive rate has fallen by six percentage points to a career low.
With Wade still hitting the ball hard alongside above-average strikeout and walk rates, it's hard to say all hope is lost for the left-handed bat. The Giants' front office must decide whether they believe Wade can reign in his swing to rekindle his 2021 production.
For the first time in his career, Wade will be eligible for arbitration this offseason. Granted, money will not be a problem for the Giants if they want to retain Wade for next season. On the high end of potential outcomes, Wade would still receive a salary south of $3.5 million. However, Wade is out of options and is taking up a valuable 40-man roster spot.
The Giants have three other left-handed corner bats currently on the 40-man roster with experience in left field and first base (Wade's primary positions): Willie Calhoun, Donovan Walton, and Jose Rojas. Wade is easily the most proven of the group, but the Giants' front office traded players to acquire Calhoun and Walton this year while Rojas has a minor-league option in 2023.
Moreover, would any team offer Wade a big-league contract coming off this season? Prior to 2021, he had a .211/.336/.347 triple-slash in 113 big-league plate appearances with the Twins. Far from a proven MLB hitter, Wade might be gettable on a minor-league contract if the Giants non-tender him. They would run the risk of seeing him sign elsewhere in free agency, but it would also create an added roster spot.
The SF Giants will have to make some significant acquisitions this offseason to try and return to postseason contention. If they make those additions, some players on the 2022 roster will not be returning next season. Given his struggles at the plate, LaMonte Wade Jr. is clearly a candidate to be let go this offseason.