As the youth movement continues for the Chicago Cubs, Manager Joe Maddon has paired Cy Young Winner Jake Arrieta with rookie catcher Willson Contreras for the rest of the season. It is the right move.
There is no mistaking the program that Chicago Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and General Manager Jeb Hoyer have put in place works. Great scouting and development of young players have set the standard by which other ball clubs follow. We all know the names: Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Javier Baez, Kyle Schwarber, Jorge Soler. All of these players were either drafted or traded for and developed in the Cubs system. It is time to add another name to that list.
Willson Contreras. Yes, he has been playing for a good portion of the season and performed well. David Ross is retiring. Miguel Montero, who has a year left on his contract with the team, is struggling. With Joe Maddon‘s recent announcement that Contreras will be catching for Arrieta for the remainder of the season, the Cubs are playing for now and the future.
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Offensive and Defensive Upgrade
The numbers are clear. Montero, once an All-Star with the Arizona Diamondbacks, is slumping. Since coming to the Cubs in 2014, he has batted no higher than .248. This year, Montero’s average is at a career low and so are the number of games that he has played. During his best years, he was playing 140 games a season. Whether or not his hitting totals now have anything to do with less plate appearances is a valid argument. What is not an argument is, in equal amounts of at-bats this year, Contreras’ offensive production is the best of the two in 2016.
Defensively, Contreras provides a spark behind the plate. Sure, Montero has almost double the amount of inning at catcher this year than Contreras. Of course, Contreras has spent time in left field and first base. The field percentages between Montero and Contreras (at catcher) are the same (.988). Montero has three passed ball and seen 30 wild pitch, compared to Contreras’s four and ten, respectively.
The difference between the two Cubs catchers comes with runners on base. The pitching staff is susceptible to opponents stealing bases. Fifty-two runners have successfully stolen a base off of Montero, and only four have been caught. That is a 7% rate, in which the league average is 27%. Contreras has shown an ability to deal with runners on base consistently, throwing out 33% (6 out of 18) of steal attempts. Additionally, he has three successful pick-offs. This defensive advantage will come in handy in the playoffs.
The biggest impact of Contreras playing at catcher regularly is resolving the left field position rotation. With Contreras settling in behind the plate, Jorge Soler is now eligible to play more, and his bat has been great lately. For the Chicago Cubs to be successful this postseason, bats will need to be prepared. The only way to do that is to ensure the best bats are in the lineup. They need to see pitches and be put in situations for success. The Cubs are at their best with Contreras and Soler.
With Ross retiring, playing Contreras now allows him to learn the pitching staff and prepare for 2017. Kyle Schwarber will be back next year, but it is unsure his role. His bat is impressive, but his defense in left is questionable. His knee may keep him from playing catcher. Plus, if he is in left, where is Soler? Will Dexter Fowler come back next year? If so, left field is the only option for Soler. If not, Albert Almora Jr. has shown he is ready for the big leagues. Keeping Contreras behind the plate will help the team remain consistent in 2017. It will also allow Schwarber to platoon at catcher and learn the position better. Just like Contreras is doing now.
The stats speak. The Chicago Cubs are a better all around team in 2016 with Contreras playing catcher. He can hit, hit for power, and manage runners on the bases. These traits are needed if the Cubs hope to hoist a champion trophy.