Ever since he burst onto the scene back in 2016, Willson Contreras has been a run-producing, power-threat for the Chicago Cubs. However, this year, things have not been the same for the young backstop.
From the moment Willson Contreras made his debut for the Chicago Cubs back on Father’s Day in 2016 you could tell he was a threat with the bat. On the very first pitch he saw at the big league level, Contreras drilled a two-run homer to straight-away center field against the Pittsburgh Pirates. The fans, my dad and I included, erupted into a frenzy as he rounded the bases, culminating in the 24-year-old receiving a curtain call from the Wrigley faithful.
For the rest of 2016, Contreras went on to hit 12 home runs to go along with 35 RBI in just 252 at-bats. He made an immediate impact and became a dangerous bat in the middle of the Cubs lineup, posting a 2.2 WAR in just 76 games.
Contreras officially took over as the Cubs starting catcher and played his first full season in 2017. Contreras showed off his ability to hit the long ball during a stretch where he homered in four out of five games.
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On the year, he totaled 21 home runs and 74 RBI which was the sixth most and second most on the team, respectively. He also posted a 3.2 WAR which was the fifth-highest among all catchers in the league. His play nearly talked him into the MVP conversation but injuries forced him to miss nearly a month of the season, taking him out of the running.
Who turned the power out?
As for this season, Contreras has not looked like himself in the batters box in many aspects. His power numbers are significantly down as the slugger has only managed to hit nine home runs. To put it in perspective, Kris Bryant, who has struggled in his own right and played 39 fewer games than Contreras, has hit 11 long balls this season. It’s been bad for Willson at the plate.
The power outage has been a season-long scuffle but its been more noticeable of late. It’s now going on over a month since Contreras left the yard, in fact, his last home run came on August 1st against the Pirates.
Earlier in the year Contreras exploded against the White Sox hitting three home runs in two days while driving in 10 runs. It looked like he had finally figured things out at the plate again but then he didn’t homer for 33 games.
The long ball isn’t the only thing affecting Contreras, he’s not driving in as many runs at the plate. To this point he’s only driven in 50 RBI – 24 less than last season. Last season, he had an above average clutch rating of 0.53 while this season he’s posted a poor clutch rating of -1.85, just below awful. To spell it out, last year Contreras came up with the big hits when the Cubs needed them and this year, he’s not.
Perhaps the biggest area for concern has been the contact rate for Contreras this season compared to last season. In 2017, Willson was crushing the ball, posting a 35.5 percent hard contact rate while this season that’s dropped to 28.9 percent. That’s quite a big drop-off in one season and makes a huge difference. Of course with his hard contact rate down this season, his soft contact rate has skyrocketed to 22.7 percent, which is 5.7 percent higher than last season.
Why isn’t he hitting the ball hard anymore?
There could be a number of different explanations for why Contreras isn’t hitting home runs and driving the ball. Maybe in the offseason he and new hitting coach decided to change his approach and use more of the field. Or maybe he has a lingering injury he’s playing through that is affecting his play. Or maybe he’s just been run into the ground, being the Cubs main catcher and playing in a league leading 123 games.
Either way it is something that needs to be changed or get fixed if the Cubs want to make another deep run into October. He’s still one of the better catchers in all of baseball but he needs to turn it around this season before it’s too late.