Chicago Cubs: Willson Contreras to catch Jon Lester in 2017
By Ryan Tadych
With David Ross retiring, the Chicago Cubs needed a new personal catcher for Jon Lester. On the first day of Spring Training, the organization answered that question.
There was no shortage of big news on the first day of spring training in Chicago Cubs camp. Perhaps one of the biggest questions going into the spring has already been answered. Joe Maddon announced yesterday that second-year catcher Willson Contreras will be Jon Lester’s new catcher in 2017.
Discussions regarding who would catch Lester dominated circles during the offseason after David Ross announced his retirement. Chicago quickly gave us an answer this spring and I don’t think it came as much of a surprise to anyone.
Going into 2017, the Cubs had three options: Miguel Montero, Willson Contreras and Kyle Schwarber. With Schwarber’s status as a starting catcher drastically changed from 12 months ago, his primary focus is playing left field and staying healthy in 2017
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That leaves us with Montero and Contreras and I think Contreras is the obvious choice. While Montero has caught Lester before, Montero’s ability to cut down runners has dwindled as he has aged. Back issues have plagued Montero the last few years and his health remains a question heading into this season.
Crunching the numbers
In 2016, Montero threw out just 11 percent of would-be base stealers (7/66). The league average is 27 percent. Montero’s career average is 28 percent, but it has come down substantially over the years. It peaked at 42 percent in 2012.
As you can see, Montero’s age seems to be catching up to him. Last year, Contreras threw out 37 percent of potential base stealers and Ross threw out 27 percent, even with the league average.
If you crunch those numbers, Contreras may actually be better at throwing out base runners than Ross is. That alone makes Contreras the better option to catch Lester. He clearly is the superior defensive catcher compared to Montero and is also going to provide more offense as well. You want his bat in the lineup as much as possible.
There is some downside though. Contreras is still young and this will be his first full season in the big leagues. Contreras still has a great deal to learn, but thankfully, Ross is going to be teaching and mentoring Contreras this spring. This is exactly what the Cubs brought Ross back to do.
Maddon did not rule out Montero catching Lester at times. However, going into 2017, Contreras will not only be the starting catcher, he will get the bulk of the playing time when lefty Lester is on the mound.