Willson Contreras is showing some nice pop so far in Spring Training action, and that’s great news for the Chicago Cubs and a hopeful offense.
Spring Training is often over-analyzed. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t any important takeaways. Several members of the Chicago Cubs will be embarking on what is commonly referred to as a “revenge tour.” Many Cubs players finished the 2018 season well shy of expectations, so now they’re out to prove it was just a one-off bad showing and not the start of a trend for the years to come.
Willson Contreras is one of those players who saw a notable drop-off in production in 2018. In particular, his power seemed to vanish. The 26-year-old catcher hit 21 home runs in 117 games in 2017 and just 10 home runs in 138 games in 2018. His slugging percentage plummeted from .499 to .390, due largely to an abysmal second-half showing.
There are reasons to believe Contreras will regain that power, though. Despite the fifty percent decline in home runs, Contreras’ strikeout rate stayed roughly the same from 2017 to 2018, sitting at about 22 percent. That’s a good sign. Typically when a player’s home run rate goes down, his strikeout rate goes up. So this likely wasn’t a case of Contreras simply trying to do too much at the plate.
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The Chili effect?
It’s no secret at this point. At least a few prominent members of the Cubs’ lineup were not fans of the Chili Davis approach to hitting. With the exception of Javier Baez, nearly every position player on the team experienced a fairly steep loss of power.
When that happens during a hitting coach’s first season with the club, it’s hard to believe it was merely a coincidence. Simply returning to a more familiar approach may enough for Contreras to find his rhythm at the plate.
Anthony Iapoce, the Cubs’ new hitting coach, filled the same role for several Texas Rangers teams that were among the top five in the American League in home runs. So the Cubs appear to have found the right man to help the team get some of its power back.
Strong Spring start
As previously mentioned, you can’t place too much importance on what happens in Spring Training. It’s generally not a very good predictor of how the season is going to go. It’s too small a sample size, and delegating playing time to everyone is highly prioritized over winning. But Contreras already has two home runs in three games, and they weren’t wall-scrapers, either. At the very least, that’s an encouraging sign.
Contreras’ workload should be monitored closely this season. He started more games at catcher in 2018 (123) than anyone else in the league. That’s a lot to ask. Playing that many games at the dish can take its toll on a player’s knees. It’s entirely possible that fatigue could have played a role in Contreras’ loss of power. Giving Victor Caratini (if he ends up being the backup catcher) more starts this season may be to Contreras’ benefit.
Like several others in the Chicago Cubs lineup, there’s plenty of room for optimism for Willson Contreras in 2019 as the regular season inches closer.