Chicago Cubs: Willson Contreras 2017 year in review

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 17: Willson Contreras
CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 17: Willson Contreras /

Willson Contreras was a key component of the Chicago Cubs’ offense in 2017. The Cubs hope he’ll be an even bigger part of next season’s team.

B+. . Catcher. Chicago Cubs. WILLSON CONTRERAS

Of the Chicago Cubs‘ young stars, Willson Contreras is perhaps the most exciting to watch. Additionally, he gives the team positional stability they’ve not had at catcher in recent years. The revolving door of Cubs catchers, including Geovany Soto, Steve Clevenger, Wellington Castillo, Miguel Montero and David Ross has not exactly been a bastion of productiveness, especially at the plate.

Then came Willson Contreras in 2016. The Venezuelan catcher entered the league with lofty expectations, and by most standards, he either met or exceeded those expectations. His 2017 season was a continuation of a successful rookie year.

Offensive Juggernaut

Contreras’ offense was a huge boost for a Cubs team that, collectively, didn’t hit nearly as well as it did in 2016. Slotted comfortably in the cleanup spot for most of the year, Contreras gave the Cubs a level of offensive consistency they didn’t get from other players in the lineup.

FanGraphs had Contreras being worth 3.2 WAR this past season, while Baseball Reference had him worth 3.9 WAR. Either way, he was a major cog in the Chicago Cubs’ offense.

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For the 2017 season, Contreras slashed .276/.356/.499 with 21 home runs and 74 RBI. The 25-year-old’s approach at the plate has been impressive given that he’s played less than two full seasons. His 22.9 percent strikeout rate was a bit high but coinciding with a robust 10.5 percent walk rate, you could conclude he’s aggressive but aptly patient at the plate.

Contreras’ game transitioned exceptionally smoothly from the minors to the majors. In 2017, he made hard contact at a 35.5 percent rate, which is excellent. It seems none of his home runs are wall-scrapers. Remember his 491 foot home run in Game 4 of the NLCS?

Solid defense, but with room to grow

Contreras has one of the best arms in the league. This much is evident by the eye test alone. He does, however, need to be more consistent with his accuracy. Though he and Javier Baez make for a lethal combination of throw downs to second base, his nine throwing errors in 2017 leave some room for improvement moving forward.

Pitch framing is another area in which Contreras might need to develop further. It’s not an easy thing to quantify. Measuring effectiveness in pitch framing can be tricky. The human error factor on the part of the home plate umpire deviates from game to game, player to player. But as it’s currently analyzed, it appears Contreras could do better.

Those issues aside, Contreras is undeniably one of baseball’s best defensive catchers. Jon Lester‘s inability to make a solid, accurate throw to first base is often neutralized by Contreras’ ability to gun down runners who are overly aggressive in trying to exploit Lester’s yips.

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Contreras is very easily a top 10 catcher in the league, and there’s a case to be made for including him in the top five as well. One thing is certain pertaining to the young catcher: he’s aggressive. Since he first joined the Cubs in 2016, he’s shown remarkable hustle. In this day and age, many players will trot when they hit routine ground balls for outs. Contreras, for the most part, runs hard after contact every time, which is both admirable and refreshing.