Willson Contreras is struggling at the plate but killing it behind it. Nonetheless, the Chicago Cubs should run with what they’re getting from him.
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Willson Contreras wasn’t even on the roster at this point last season. Heralded as one of the Cubs’ top prospects heading into 2016, the catcher’s debut at half-season was everything he and the team hoped it would be.
Now basically an everyday player, Contreras is having an up-and-down season–but not up and down in one particular area. He’s having troubles at the plate but is having a great season defensively, and the Cubs should be more happy than discouraged.
Offensively the young catcher’s struggles center around making contact. Contreras is 6th worst among qualified players in contact percent, touching the ball on only 64.2 percent of his swings (league average is 78.5 percent).
One step forward, two steps back
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Contreras is also striking out more and walking less than he was last season. It’s a smaller sample size, but those aren’t encouraging stats.
As previously mentioned, Contreras’ season as a whole isn’ going as bad as it is offensively. Defensively he is enjoying a great campaign, and the stats back it up.
Contreras is tied for first in baserunners thrown out with eight. He’s also tied for first in catcher pickoffs and hasn’t allowed a passed ball in over 200 innings caught. According to Fangraphs, he’s second among catchers in defensive WAR.
Stellar behind the plate
The 24-year-old is also framing pitches well, something he excelled at last season in limited action. He’s 3rd in the league in framing runs saved with 3.3 and on pace for 20.6, which would’ve ranked 3rd last year and placed him among only two other catchers with at least 20.
Catcher is one of those positions where defense is much more important than others. Often dubbed the ‘generals’ on the field, it’s the catcher’s job to control the flow of the game for the pitcher and Contreras has done a great job doing that.
While no one’s denying that Contreras is having a poor season so far at the dish, it would be unwise to cede his playing time to Miguel Montero, who’s having a much better offensive season.
Contreras is still young in terms of experience. He’s still figuring out how pitchers are pitching him and slowing down his development could do more harm than good. In addition, his defensive prowess is all the more important now that the Cubs’ pitching staff is in a downward spiral.
Slashing .215/.284/.344 isn’t great. But Contreras’ defense is enough to keep him in the lineup more than Montero, plus it’s only a matter of time before the offense gets going. In the meantime, the Cubs will have to take the bad with the good.
*All stats accurate as of May 9