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Kolten Wong to Milwaukee - Fantasy Impact

Many baseball fans were surprised in late October when the St. Louis Cardinals declined the $12.5 million club option for Kolten Wong. Wong is one of the best defensive second basemen in baseball, has shown very nice on-base skills, and has been a threat on the basepaths. After a few months of waiting around, Wong has a new home. He will stay in the NL Central, joining the Milwaukee Brewers on a 2yr/$18M contract with a third-year club option at $8 million. 

The Brewers were a team that needed some offensive help at the top of the order and some defensive help at second base, and Wong checks both those boxes. Wong brings back-to-back Gold Gloves to the Brewers as he replaces the defensively-challenged Keston Hiura at second base. Wong will also lead off and get his OBP that has been .350 or higher in three of the last four seasons. 

Many suspected Wong would sign a contract at some time, but there were still concerns about where he would sign and how the playing time would pan out. His January NFBC Draft Champions ADP was 343 (34th 2B), but for the first few days in February, his ADP has skyrocketed to 198 (18th 2B). Wong will enjoy a strong lineup around him as well as a much-improved home ballpark to hit in for half the season. Let’s take a look at the fantasy impact of Kolten Wong joining the Milwaukee Brewers. 

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association including Baseball Writer of the Year, Football Writers of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year and many more! Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!

 

Ballpark Upgrade

It is no secret that Busch Stadium in St. Louis is much better for pitchers than hitters. It is also no secret that Miller Park in Milwaukee is pretty darn good for hitters. 

AVG HR SLG wOBAcon
Busch Stadium LHB 28 25 28 28
Miller Park LHB 15 4 5 5
Busch Stadium RF LHB 23 23 25 25
Miller Park RF LHB 20 8 9 13
Busch Stadium RCF LHB 9 22 20 16
Miller Park RCF LHB 5 8 4 4

When looking at the RotoFanatic Park Factors, it is pretty easy to see just how much the power improves moving from Busch Stadium to Miller Park. When just looking at LHB in general, Miller Park is the 4th best park for home runs while Busch Stadium is 25th. Even more, looking at right field and right-centerfield for LHB, there is more proof of the power advantages for LHB. Lastly, it is nice to see right-centerfield as an excellent average source that suits Wong’s approach at the plate.

Before last season Wong was pulling the ball 32-37% while hitting the ball straight 38-40%. Wong sprays the ball from the right foul pole to centerfield way more often than usual. Miller Park will fit him well; I know, shocker. 

 

What Went Wrong in 2020?

Wong entered the 2020 season coming off a 2019 season where he 11 home runs, stole 24 bases, and hit .285. He was a top-notch leadoff hitter for the Cardinals. Many were excited to see what was next for Wong, but it was not meant to be as 2020 was a bit of a dud. He still hit .265 with a nice .350 OBP, but he only hit one home run and only stole five bases. 

Sure it was a shortened season, but he played in 53 games (208 PA) compared to 148 games (549 PA) in 2019. Wong played in 36% of the games and had 38% of the plate appearances as he did in 2019, but hit 9% as many home runs and stole 21% as many stolen bases. That does not lineup. If we think full season, we could have possibly seen five or so home runs and 15 or so stolen bases. The steals would have been nice, but those that drafted Wong wanted that double-digit home run potential. 

When digging into the numbers, nothing immediately stands out for what went wrong with Wong. Even as the power declined, his BB% rose for the third straight season, the strikeout rate was still 14-15%, and his batting average and OBP were not dreadful. The quality of contact was not bad either as his hard-hit rate rose to 29.3%, and his average exit velocity was 86.5 mph, which is typical for Wong. 

Initially, things appear not to be too bad; then, we dig deeper. His Iso dropped to a new low of .061, which is in line with the power drop. Even though Wong’s EV was par for the course, his max EV dropped from 107.7 mph to 103.7 mph. He has never been a major barrel producer, and with the hard-hit rate rising, one may think the barrel rate would stay around his 2.5-3.5%, but it stopped to 0.6%. 

The barrel rate dropping was the main red flag. We know launch angle along with EV creates barrels. If the EV is on par with Wong’s norm, then the launch angle could be in trouble. Well, look at this goodness. Wong’s groundball rate rose to 51.9% from 47% in 2019, but that was not too crazy from the norm and not the worst groundball rate he has had in the past. The real kicker watched the flyball rate drop from 21.2% to 14.9%, resulting in more line drives and 8.4% pop-ups. The 6.3% drop in flyballs could reduce the barrel rate by 2% and decrease the home runs in 2020 for Wong. 

Lastly, we know hard hit, pulled flyballs, or line drives have the best chance to leave the park. Earlier, there was a mention of Wong’s tendency to pull the ball or hit the ball straight away around 75% of the time each season. Doing so could result in much more power, and more extra-base hits in general. Last season, there was a drop in pull percentage from 34.2% to 27.3%, while his straight away rate stayed the same at 40.3%. Wong was hitting the ball the other way 32.5% of the time, which was the most of his career. The opposite-field approach could have been aided by less aggressiveness at the plate as he only swings at 20.2% of first pitches compared to 28.6% last season. His edge swing percentage also rose from 42.9% to 46.9%, which could have been the result of having to swing more after being behind in the count after watching more first-pitch strikes. Wong needs to get back to the approach at the plate that worked in previous seasons, and he should be good to go in Milwaukee.

 

Defense Matters

Defense is usually a category fantasy players are not too concerned about, but it cannot be ignored with players like Wong. His defense is elite, and that has been showcased in recent years as he was the National League Gold Glove winner at second base for 2019 and 2020. 

2019 DRS 2019 2B Rank 2020 DRS 2020 2B Rank
Kolten Wong 19 1st 6 3rd
Keston Hiura -5 27th -6 33rd

Wong led baseball in 2019 when it came to defensive runs saved and was third in 2020, trailing only Nicky Lopez and Kike Hernandez. Wong will be a considerable upgrade to the Brewers as Keston Hiura has been dreadful at 2B. It has been an issue for Hiura since he was drafted. With Wong joining the Brewers, Hiura can now move to first base. The Brewers pitchers will be happy with the change, especially heavy ground ball pitchers like Brandon Woodruff and Corbin Burnes

 

What to Expect in 2021

Wong will be entering his eighth full season in the bigs and will look to return to his 2019 form. If the approach at the plate can change some, it appears he can return. He was not that far off in 2020, so there should be plenty of optimism in 2021. The change in ballparks is also a significant boom to Wong’s fantasy value. 

Wong should be in the Brewers lineup every day, and most expect him to be leadoff. His OBP skills should flourish as he sets the table, steals some bags, and scores a ton of runs. Wong will have Lorenzo Cain, Christian Yellich, Keston Hiura, and Avisail Garcia hitting behind him, all of who should also enjoy having Wong leading off. 

Games AVG HR R RBI SB
ATC 133 0.263 9 64 50 14

The ATC Projections have Wong close to his double-digit home run and stolen base combo. The projection is only for 133 games, where he played 148 games in 2019 when everything was clicking. Wong also played 53 of 60 games last season, so 133 games may be a bit short. Wong’s ADP is climbing, but rightfully so as he should be a reliable 2B target in drafts for those that do not draft 2B early in drafts. Do not be afraid to draft Wong and enjoy a solid bounce-back 2021 season. 



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