It is accurate to say that the Brewers leadoff hitter role during the 2020 season was much like a revolving door that just kept spinning. The all important role was constantly changing between players such as: Lorenzo Cain, Eric Sogard, Avisail Garcia, Omar Narvaez, Ryan Braun, Ryon Healy and a few others.
Lorenzo Cain was the first to get a chance as the leadoff hitter last season, but after just five games he elected to opt out the remainder of the season. Eric Sogard and Avisail Garcia spent the most substantial amount of time at the position afterwards, but no clear favorite ever emerged.
As we look towards the 2021 Brewers season the initial options at leadoff seem a bit more clear.
Lorenzo Cain is returning and is a fan favorite to reassume the leadoff role in which he thrived in during the 2018 season. However, recently acquired Kolten Wong has lead-off experience as well and could be a strong options as well.
Between Lorenzo Cain and Kolten Wong, who currently has the edge to be the Brewers leadoff hitter?
While Cain is a right handed batter and Wong is a left handed batter, interestingly enough their offensive stat cast profiles are relatively similar. Both hitters do not make a ton of loud contact, both are lower strikeout type hitters, and neither possesses elite speed but still have sneaky/surprising enough speed to steal bases once on base.
In 2018, Cain thrived as a table setter for future MVP Christian Yelich in that he drew 71 walks that season, his career high by a landslide. This was equivalent to a 11.5% walk percentage in 2018. In 2019, Cain’s walk percentage regressed closer to his career mean with a 8.0% rate.
Throughout Wong’s earlier part of his career, drawing a walk was not something he thrived in doing. However, recently this has been improving by a substantial margin including a 9.6% walk percentage in 2020 in which he spent 47 games as the leadoff hitter. His career average in this metric is 7.7%, which leads Cain by .1%.
With similar profiles, it is hard to give one of these players the edge right now. Recency bias would give Wong the edge for in 2020 he thrived in that role even though it was his first season consistently batting leadoff, but many are expecting a bounce back season from a rested and healthy Cain whom had previously lost the leadoff batter title due to performance issues during the 2019 season.
It will be interesting to see how Counsell elects to construct this lineup out of spring training. We could possibly even see Cain and Wong bat first and second in the lineup if Counsell desires to do so.
Regardless of who gets the first chance at leadoff hitter this year, how players perform throughout the duration of the season will certainly impact their position in the lineup and the lead-off role will likely change multiple times much like it has each of the past two seasons.