Last week, Michael discussed how Willson Contreras is quietly becoming one of the best catchers in baseball. I don’t know how quiet anything Contreras does can be, but I absolutely agree with everything Michael wrote. Contreras is special.
Yesterday, Contreras logged the first four-hit game of his career, as he continues a wrecking ball trend that actually started long before the All-Star break. Pick a cutoff in the last couple months, and you’ll find a great set of numbers for Contreras. I’m a big fan of, oh, let’s go with … since June 25: .379/.446/.707. LOL.
Contreras looked especially dominant this weekend as the Cubs got off to a hot start in Baltimore, and it turns out there’s a funny Anthony Rizzo-Matt Szczur story going on there.
Contreras says he was not likely the feel of his bats, so he started using fellow backstop Victor Caratini’s bats: “I have to thank Victor. He gave me bats, and I’m hitting with his bats and I’m hot. Thanks, Victor. He’s a great guy. I love Victor.”
I love it. With the big game yesterday, Contreras pushed his season WAR total to 2.3, just above last year’s 2.2 mark.
The super hot streak for Contreras, though, actually goes back quite a bit before this weekend, as we discussed.
The crew over at Cubs Insider has an interesting theory on Contreras’s breakout this year, pointing to the addition of a subtle toe tap timing mechanism in mid-June.
Among the biggest things you’d want to see with the addition of a timing mechanism is improved discipline stats, including – and arguably especially – an improved contact rate.
Prior to June 15, Contreras had a swinging strike rate of 15.3%, well above league average. After June 15? That figure is down to 12.7%. Overall, his contact rate has increased from 68.1% to 73.9%. Inside the strike zone, he’s up from 74.2% to 80.6%. He’s still below league average on swinging strike rate (10.4%) and zone contact rate (85.6%), but he’s getting close.
And obviously, he’s producing in any case, because he’s absolutely been crushing the ball over this period: his hard contact rate is up from 30.1% to 42.0%! He’s also dropped his groundball rate from an unsightly 57.9% to a mere 42.4%.
That is all to say, however he’s adjusted mechanically, Contreras is successfully doing the things that should generate huge numbers (and they are generating those huge numbers).
Because I am a small, jealous man, I often note breakout young stars on other clubs around baseball – Aaron Judge, Cody Bellinger, Jose Ramirez – guys who had relatively nondescript minor league experiences before exploding in a huge way at the big league level or just before reaching the big league level. Why can’t the Cubs have some totally random breakout like that?
Setting aside, overall, how utterly insane it is to think that way about the youth-filled, loaded Chicago Cubs (I said I was small, OK!?), the feeling is totally betrayed by the existence of Willson Contreras – a guy who, until 2015, was only barely on the prospect radar at all, and within a year, had become the organization’s top prospect. Then, less than a year later, he was raking in the big leagues, and became the team’s primary catcher for a World Series run.
Chill out, Brett. The Cubs totally had one of those explode-on-the-scene guys – it’s just that he’s still in the process of exploding.