Brewers fans spent most of a quiet offseason anticipating a corner infielder or power bat acquisition. That is, until Wednesday when the Brewers signed former Cardinal Kolten Wong to a two-year, $18 million contract with a third-year club option. It’s a surprising but entirely on-brand move for the Brewers, who are known for taking the atypical yet practical route to a win.
If the move itself was unexpected, the Brewers know what to expect from Kolten Wong. As David Stearns put it, the Brewers have watched the second basemen as closely as anybody and they know what they’re getting from him. Wong brings the best second base defense in baseball, 2+ WAR, and a reliable on-base presence.
Wong’s tendency to get on base provides real offensive value for an otherwise average hitter. He’s among the top 10% of major league batters when it comes to avoiding strikeouts and whiffs. Over the past four years, he’s slashed .273/.356/.398 and posted a slightly above average wRC+. He manages this production without much power, posting some of the very lowest barrel rates, hard-hit percentages, and xSLG in the MLB. A lefty with the potential to hit most places in the lineup, he also offers some offensive versatility. He tends to hit well in clutch situations and hit .389 with runners in scoring position in 2019.
Except for an abbreviated 2020, Wong is also trending up in terms of power. In 2019, he hit .285 with 11 home runs, 59 RBIs, and 784 OPS. The Brewers are likely getting the best offensive version of Kolten Wong at American Family Field, where he feels comfortable and confident. He has posted an .855 OPS at the field formerly known as Miller Park.
Even if Wong’s offensive contributions remain modest yet consistent, the Brewers will win more games with him at second base. He’s won the Gold Glove the past 2 seasons, the Fielding Bible award the past 3 seasons, and leads all second basemen with +57 DRS since 2014. He routinely puts up some of the top fielding percentages at second. In 2020, he led the league in assists and double plays. Across 150 games, he’s got +35 DRS over Keston Hiura, who is moving to first to make room for Wong at second. Improving the defense up the middle is a huge benefit for the Brewers, particularly their pitching staff, which has one of the highest ground ball rates in the MLB.
Wong has the “energy and character” the Brewers are looking for, according to David Stearns, and he is the kind of player who makes everyone around them better. For example, he has already contacted Milwaukee’s fun-to-watch yet inconsistent shortstop Orlando Arcia, reportedly excited to help Arcia win a gold glove. Wong joins Arcia and Lorenzo Cain to form a well-covered and exceedingly enjoyable middle infield. Wong imagines himself a good fit with the Brewers and does seem like he will easily find his place on a team typically replete with fun and goodwill.
With Wong, the Brewers get an elite second baseman who improves the infield defense, a hitter who gets on base and provides batting order flexibility, and a clubhouse presence who adds to team chemistry.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, and Baseball Savant