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Chicago Cubs: The need (and want) to carry three catchers in the playoffs

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Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports /
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This season, the Chicago Cubs have three players that have caught at least 50 games behind the plate: Miguel Montero, Willson Contreras and David Ross.

Since Contreras’ call-up months ago, the Chicago Cubs have used all three catchers periodically yet regularly to varying degrees of success. They also each possess different skill sets that allow for the capability of Chicago Cubs’ skipper Joe Maddon to turn to all three.

Ross’ role is the most set in stone: he is Jon Lester’s personal catcher. Ross has caught every start of Lester’s since July 9, which was the only of Lester’s 29 starts (as of September 21) that Ross has not played. He grabs starts otherwise, but those come sporadically.

The kicker for Ross is that he is not a good hitter, at all. 2016 is arguably his best season at the plate of the past decade, but that just underscores how poor he has been with a bat his whole career. That isn’t his game.

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Ross’ game is catching, and he is pretty darn good at it. He is easily the best defensive catcher on the team, though defensive catcher stats are tricky since they cannot include such things as game-calling and rapport with the pitchers, nor do most include framing.

Yet Ross is arguably known for his game-calling, at least in regards to Lester’s starts. How much credit you want to give Ross for how well Lester performs can be argued, but it’s more than zero.

Consideration

When considering a postseason roster for the Cubs, Ross’ name comes up as being on the chopping block. Can the team possibly carry three catchers on its active roster for the most important games of the year? Gut reaction is to say no; no team needs three catchers no matter the circumstances, but the circumstances are what makes Chicago an exception.

Contreras is a catcher, but unlike nearly all catchers, he is not only a catcher. Thus far this season, he has played in 76 games. 51 of those saw him behind the plate; in 22 he was in the outfield; in three games he played first base. Like many of the other Cubs this season, Contreras owns many different gloves.

That flexibility allows Maddon to get Contreras into the lineup when the latter is not catching, but it also allows for David Ross to exist. If all three of Ross, Contreras, and Montero were strictly catchers (with no National League DH to turn to), it would be hard to justify rostering all of them.

Solid Rookie

The fact that Contreras has also been very solid at the plate in his rookie season is also obviously important. He has nearly a .800 OPS with 24 extra-base hits in fewer than 300 at-bats. That’s acceptable for any hitter; it’s really good for a catcher.

Montero has not been nearly that good at the plate this season. In fact, he’s having one of his worst seasons with the bat. But he is also one of the best pitch-framers in all of baseball according to StatCorner. He saves a run per game more than any of the other catchers on the Cubs.

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That is what allows Montero to find his way into the lineup any day (except when Lester is pitching). He also has years of at-bats that indicate he isn’t this bad of a hitter. Which is at least somewhat encouraging when Chicago is considering starting him in a postseason game.

If Lester wasn’t so good where the Cubs would not try to start him twice in each postseason series, Ross would  be left off the roster. If Contreras was better behind the plate, one of Ross or Montero would probably be left off. With the way these three complement each other, it seems most likely that all three find their way into the playoffs.

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