Red Sox catcher Connor Wong's breakout performance
By Sean Penney
Connor Wong was a triple short of the cycle when he stepped to the plate leading off the bottom of the eighth inning of a tie game at Fenway Park. He has one career triple on his resume, making it feasible that Wong could become the first Boston Red Sox catcher since Rich Gedman in 1985 to achieve this rare accomplishment. Wong wouldn't complete the cycle on this night though, settling instead for a game-winning home run.
Toronto Blue Jays reliever Erik Swanson fell behind in the count 2-1 before leaving a 93 mph fastball over the middle of the plate. Wong crushed a skyscraping fly ball into the Monster seats to put the Red Sox ahead 8-7.
Connor Wong fuels the Red Sox to victory
The game-winner was Wong's fourth hit of the day and his second home run. Wong accounted for each of Boston's last two runs in a dramatic comeback, as his solo homer to lead off the sixth inning tied the game at six. His second-inning double high off the left field wall had an exit velocity of 113.6 mph, easily the hardest-hit ball in this game, per Baseball Savant. That's probably a home run in any other ballpark but not at Fenway where the towering Green Monster was there to knock it down. Wong added a sharp single up the middle with a 105.4 mph exit velocity as part of his 4-for-4 performance.
Oddly enough, the single and the double were hit harder than either home run but all four hits were hammered. According to Alex Speier of The Boston Globe, Wong is the sixth batter this season to collect four hits in a game that each had an exit velocity of 98+ mph. The other handful of players to match that accomplishment are Adam Duvall, Garrett Stone, Joey Meneses, Adolis Garcia, and Ian Happ.
Wong sputtered out to a slow start this season, recognized for his improved defense behind the plate but criticized for his anemic production with the bat. The small sample size of the early season for a backup catcher allowed the narrative to shift quickly. Wong has collected nine hits in his last three games, including three home runs. His batting average was sitting at a pitiful .180 to go with a .528 OPS. Three games later, those numbers have vaulted to a .290 average and .869 OPS.
While heavily weighted by these last three games, the Statcast data suggests Wong's breakout is no fluke. He's in the 69th percentile with a 44.4 Hard Hit%, which ranks eighth among MLB catchers. Wong's 92.3 mph average exit velocity places him in the 87th percentile and is the fifth-highest at his position.
Wong has split time behind the plate with Reese McGuire, who continues to rack up hits. McGuire's .327 batting average is the best in the American League at the catcher position. He lacks the upside that Wong's power brings though. McGuire is slugging only .408 with an 86.5 mph average exit velocity and 34.3 Hard Hit%.
McGuire's trouble controlling the opposing running game has been well-documented. He's dead-last among MLB catchers with -3 Catchers CS Above Average, which measures the number of caught stealings compared to the league average. Wong is tied for first with +3 in that category.
Wong was already threatening to steal more playing time with his defense. If his bat continues to deliver, he could make a case for being the primary catcher for the Red Sox. If these last three games are a sign of a breakout rather than a brief hot streak, Wong could finally emerge as the player the Red Sox believed he could be when they acquired him in the Mookie Betts trade.