As we recently discussed, with David Ross retiring, it was fair to wonder which Cubs catcher would be entrusted to work with Jon Lester this season. Willson Contreras is set to be the Cubs’ nominal starter, with veteran Miguel Montero likely a more-than-occasional backup. Would Lester be paired exclusively with one of the duo? Rotated around based on matchups?
Well, it’s pitchers and catchers day in Arizona, and we’ve got an answer.
It’s going to be Contreras:
Joe Maddon says #Cubs plan to use Willson Contreras as Jon Lester's personal catcher this year.
— Patrick Mooney (@CSNMooney) February 14, 2017
And he’ll get some tutoring from the best possible source:
Plan is to have Contreras catch Lester. David Ross will work with Willson this spring #Cubs
— Carrie Muskat (@CarrieMuskat) February 14, 2017
The decision was undoubtedly at least partially motivated by the unappetizing impact pairing Lester with Montero would have on the opposition’s running game. In a recent set of Bullets, I went into Jon Lester’s well-traveled running game issues, and it’s useful information to re-share here, in light of the Contreras revelation:
- Anyone else wonder what the baserunning game is going to look like for Jon Lester in 2017, what with David Ross retiring? Give yourself a moment to think about what a huge – annoyingly huge (arguably overstated-ly huge) – story this all was in 2015. And then think about how much you heard about it in 2016. You … basically didn’t hear about it in 2016. And there’s good reason for that: in 2015, Lester was brutally bad at controlling the running game (both by the advanced metrics, and the raw stolen base numbers (his 44 allowed were the most in the game by 7, and the typical starter allowed about 10); there were a whopping 55 attempts against him that year). But in 2016, Lester improved by the advanced metrics and by the raw stolen base count (down to 28 success, and just 41 attempts). How much of that was because Lester showed late in 2015 that he could – just barely – throw over to first base? And how much of that was because he and Ross got even more in sync, specifically with respect to keeping runners honest at first?
- For what it’s worth – though you already know, if you watched the Cubs last year – Miguel Montero was one of the worst catchers at preventing stolen bases in 2016. The running game has an overstated impact overall, because it is so visible, but I do wonder if it is even going to be possible to pair Lester with Montero in 2017. All of the gains in 2016 would probably evaporate – and then some.
- (Meanwhile, Willson Contreras clearly demonstrated his ability to control the running game – he was a top 20 catcher in that respect last year.)
Given his athleticism and overall sky-high potential behind the plate, I dig this decision. Hopefully Contreras and Lester click, and we don’t notice any lost strikes or dicey pitch selection for Lester this year, after he was so brilliant in 2016. And, you know, having Contreras’s bat in there for Lester’s starts is mighty nice, too.
It’s just another of the developing stories to follow this spring. That includes Kyle Schwarber behind the plate, too, as the Cubs are going to give him a chance to work back there.