Chicago Cubs: Willson Contreras is having a better year than you think

(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
(Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) /

Despite a decline in power numbers, Willson Contreras is providing just as much offensive value as he did a year ago – despite what many might believe.

In the game today, there’s a proclivity to equate massive home run totals with being a successful hitter. Some of the biggest names in the game (Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge) gained their stardom by obliterating baseballs on a regular basis. But, despite this misconception, the Chicago Cubs have a lot of truly talented hitters – many of whom aren’t hitting the ball out of the yard.

One of those hitters? Catcher Willson Contreras, who enters Tuesday with a career-worst .434 slugging percentage. Last year, of course, Contreras blasted 21 home runs. He joined five other Cubs teammates who eclipsed the 20-homer mark in 2017, but despite it all, the Cubs struggled in clutch situations.

With runners in scoring position, Chicago put up a cumulative .787 OPS, which ranked 13th in baseball. A seeming inability to deliver situational hitting ultimately cost hitting coach John Mallee his job – despite the impressive power numbers his offense put up.

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Fast forward to 2018 and it’s hard to really say things have gotten better. In fact, maybe the opposite. The Cubs rank 21st in the league with a .693 OPS through the season’s first 68 games. And the power hasn’t been there for most guys, including Contreras.

Striking out less, seeing the ball better

Despite having only four home runs through his first 257 plate appearances, though, there’s a lot to like about what Contreras has done with the bat. The Cubs backstop is largely in-line with what he’s done in his young career.

He’s hitting .276 – the exact same average he ended with last year. His OBP is slightly up, coming in at .369 over .356. His overall value, at least in terms of OPS+, clocks in pretty much even to his 2017 mark (and still slightly above average) at 119.

Really the only issue with Contreras’ offensive game has been a lack of power. But he’s working more counts and striking out far less. For comparison, let’s look at his rookie season of 2016.

In 283 plate appearances, he walked 26 times and struck out 57 times.  So far this season, in 257 appearances, he’s walked 25 times. The difference? He has only struck out 46 times. That’s a near-three percent drop in his K rate.

Even more valuable? He carries no discernible splits as far as righties or lefties go. That comes out to a .799 OPS against righties and an .818 against southpaws. Although, it’s worth noting: all four of his homers came against right-handers.

Heating up in June

Despite not homering yet in June, the Cubs catcher is firing on all cylinders if you look at the month, as a whole. He’s hitting .310 with a .408 on-base percentage. Sure, it’s been a dozen singles and a lone double – but in a day and age where the majority of big league catchers are barely serviceable with a bat in their hands, we need to appreciate everything we have in Willson.

Next: Almora continues to cement his role in Cubs' plans

I suspect the power will tick up as the season goes on. But, even if that doesn’t happen, he’s one of the most valuable offensive catchers in the game as-is.