Cubs need Willson Contreras to start delivering with men on

(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
(Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images) /

If, as a front office, you’re going to give more money than you’re ideally comfortable with  to a player, odds are he or she needs to check pretty much every box. The problem early on in 2022 with Cubs catcher Willson Contreras? He’s come up empty on one area the team needs him to deliver: clutch knocks with runners in scoring position.

His strikeout in the ninth inning of a one-run contest with the tying and winning runs on base on Sunday is just the latest – and perhaps most glaring – example of Contreras coming up short with men on.

On the year, the two-time All-Star has been scorching hot with the bases empty, hitting .381 in 22 plate appearances. But with runners on base, it’s been an altogether different story, evidenced by a .160 mark, seven strikeouts and five double plays hit into in 29 trips to the dish. Nobody in baseball has hit into more double plays than Contreras – and you’ve seen his frustrations on the field.

Heading into the regular season, there was no movement on any sort of extension talks – and, based on what we’ve heard, Contreras isn’t looking to have those discussions in-season. That means the Cubs are either going to let him play out his final year on the North Side (and get nothing at season’s end when he departs) or they’re going to trade him this summer for young, long-term assets.

Maybe, just maybe, Chicago circles his name at year’s end as a guy they are willing to do what it takes to bring back into the fold (it’s hard for me personally to believe that given the lack of an extension not only with Contreras, but any of the team’s homegrown core in recent years, but let’s entertain the notion). Wouldn’t you think that ‘clutch’ factor is something they’re going to look to prioritize? I certainly would, especially given how raw this roster is and will likely be for a spell.

Cubs: Metrics suggest time will see Willson Contreras come through

All the metrics. tell us Contreras should be putting up big-time numbers. He’s at the 96th percentile in hard-hit rate, 99th in max exit velocity, 94th in average exit velocity and 85th in xwOBA. And, to be fair, he’s not having a bad year, not even close to one – after all, he’s getting on base at a .370 clip and his 147 OPS+ would easily be a personal best.

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But it’s those moments – like the one in the ninth inning on Sunday – that tend to stick out most. When the pressure is up and the moment carries added weight, you need your leaders to come through. So far, though, Contreras has failed to do so – and it’s proven costly for a Cubs team with next to no margin for error early in the year.