Cubs: Willson Contreras is channeling his HBP rage into Hulk Mode
By Bill Quinn
With Kyle Schwarber now busy hitting 463-foot walk-off bombs for the Washington Nationals, somebody had to take over the “Hulk” moniker on the Chicago Cubs. Given the flurry of beanballs Willson Contreras has endured over the past two seasons, he has promptly turned his rage into production by taking on the mantle of “Hulk” while smashing balls out of Wrigley Field.
While I’m not here to get into whether or not the Brewers, Pirates, or anyone else is actually throwing at Contreras on purpose, I know a thing or two about getting hit with fastballs and how annoyed it can make you. Since Contreras is taking 95 MPH fastballs off his dome and elbow, I’m sure he’s been seeing red lately.
Thankfully, that red he’s seeing is every single one of the 108 stitches on the white leather-covered baseball as it’s coming in, allowing his laser sharp focus and keen eye to decipher between fastball and offspeed pitches. He also might be seeing some yellow, white and blue, as the baseball may appear more akin to a beachball to the Cubs’ two-time All-Star catcher at the moment.
Thank you Milwaukee pitchers (sort of- it didn’t seem to help the rest of the Cubs lineup until this weekend).
Cubs: Willson Contreras is destroying both fastballs and breaking stuff.
Since April 5, the game Milwaukee commenced with the beanball extravaganza on the fiery backstop, our favorite Venezuelan entered Sunday’s finale slashing an absurd .367/.500/.867 with five home runs, seven RBI and 11 total hits.
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I’d love to say this is all about raging on fastballs and Hulk-smashing them accordingly, but it’s more than that for Contreras this year. A deeper dive into the numbers on the Cubs backstop this year shows that opposing pitchers have actually been throwing him fewer fastballs as compared to the past. For a veteran with such a track record, it’s actually a pretty startling deviation, mind you we are discussing small sample size still early in the season.
So far this spring, opposing pitchers have thrown Contreras fastballs 47.8 percent of the time, breaking balls 39 percent of the time, and other offspeed offerings (namely splitters and changeups) 13.2 percent of the time. Nothing jumps out too much there until you compare this to past seasons, when the fastballs numbers were pretty steadily hovering around the 60 percent mark all the way back to 2016.
Early in the season, Contreras is destroying fastballs to the tune of a .375 average with a .938 slugging percentage. That’s not that crazy as Contreras has always hit fastballs well. What really surprises so far is the damage Contreras is doing on breaking stuff, averaging .294 with a .647 slugging mark.
Again, this could all just be chalked up to small samples early in April, but it’s most definitely a good sign for Contreras and the Cubs should this continue. Either he’s going to help Chicago claw its way out of this early season rut, or he’s certainly upping the prospect haul in any trade the Cubs might decide to make involving a guy who isn’t a free agent until after the 2022 season.
Let’s hope it’s the former, as the Cubs 13-run outburst Saturday showed what they can do once the bats warm up.