When the Cubs lineup came out earlier today, catcher Willson Contreras’ name wasn’t in it. Of course, that has nothing to do with how well he’s played lately.
In his first full professional season in the Major Leagues, Contreras has done nothing but impress with his glove, arm, and bat, while forcing the league to come to terms with something they may not have expected: He is slowly becoming one of the top catchers in all of baseball.
Let’s take a closer look.
If we looked at this argument by WAR alone, the decision is an easy one. Contreras’ 1.9 fWAR stands in third place behind only Buster Posey (2.9 fWAR) and Yasmani Grandal (2.1 fWAR) among qualified players. Of course, there are only seven qualified catchers in baseball this season, so I’ll expand the parameters to include all 22 catchers who’ve had at least 200 plate appearances this season.
When the additional names are added, Contreras’ 1.9 WAR becomes tied for fourth place with Gary Sanchez, behind Grandal, Alex Avila (2.3 fWAR), and Posey. Of course, WAR doesn’t work like home runs … negative value can be created and WAR can go down, so it’s still very easy to be impressed by what Contreras has done with his time.
And how about that bat?
This season, Contreras is slashing .258/.326/.458 overall which is good for a .333 wOBA (10th best among catchers) overall. Obviously, that’s far from the top of the pile, but there’s three important caveats to remember: First, and again, he has more plate appearances than five of the players ranked ahead of him. Second, he’s younger than everyone ahead of him besides Gary Sanchez (who’s just six months younger). And third, he’s been heating way up lately.
Yesterday, Contreras smacked his 11th home run of the season and sixth in his just his past 16 games alone. Obviously, I don’t expect him to keep that ridiculous pace up, but he has genuinely looked so good at the plate – and it hasn’t been just a recent thing.
Since all the way back on May 9 (last 168 PAs), Contreras has slashed .289/.353/.537 which is good for a 129 wRC+. In other words, he’s been 29% better than the league average hitter for the vast majority of his season. If you cut that down to just his last 122 plate appearances, his wRC+ shoots up to 135.
But, as we know, he’s far from just a bat-first catcher. He’s got the glove an arm of one of the league’s best backstop’s too.
Of the 12 catchers who have enough innings behind the plate to qualify for defensive statistics, Willson Contreras’ 9.5 Def rating is ranked second behind only Yasmani Grandal. His 5 Defensive Runs Saved rank fourth, behind Jason Castro (6), Grandal (6), and Martin Maldonado (8); while his 5 rSB is tied for first.
And for you more traditional stat gurus out there, Contreras has thrown out 18 base stealers this season, which is tied for first with Tucker Barnhart. His caught stealing percentage isn’t as highly ranked, but as we know he isn’t exactly working with pitchers who are known for their ability to keep runners near their bases. Anyone that questions Contreras’ arm strength or accuracy clearly isn’t watch him play every day.
By pretty much every measure on both sides of the ball, Contreras comes out at or near the very top among all catchers in baseball. And, again, he’s doing so as one of the youngest catchers in the league in just his first full season at the Major League level.
If he’s not already one of the best backstops in baseball, he’s well on his way to becoming one.