Earlier this offseason, Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras rated as the fourth best catcher in all of Major League Baseball, according to ESPN, and here’s what I had to say about it at the time:
Among catchers, Willson Contreras ranks fourth overall, behind Buster Posey (still the king), Gary Sanchez, and J.T. Realmuto. Despite how awesome I believe Contreras is, this ranking seems fair because those three are all awesome, too. Consider the bats:
’17 Posey: 128 wRC+
’17 Sanchez: 130 wRC+
’17 Realmuto: 105 wRC+
’17 Contreras: 121 wRC+
Clearly, Posey and Sanchez can hit – at least – as well as Contreras can, and Realmuto has been pretty darn consistent behind the plate, as well. And given that each of Sanchez and Realmuto are both about the same age as Contreras, well, it’s not really worth getting too argue-y about Contreras being fourth. But if you’re looking for a little more excitement, consider that Olney believe Contreras become the best all-around catcher in baseball within a year or two, if he’s able to sharpen up a few subtle skills in his defense.
I still believe that’s a pretty fair ranking – especially because the four of them appear to be in a tier of their own anyway – but if you’re looking for a little more Cubs-love, Mike Petriello has you covered.
He recently ranked the league’s catchers, too, but in this version Contreras moves up a spot, overtaking Marlins catcher (for now) J.T. Realmuto.
- Buster Posey, Giants
- Gary Sanchez, Yankees
- Willson Contreras, Cubs
- J.T. Realmuto, Marlins
- Tyler Flowers, Braves
For the rest of the top ten and individual write-ups on each catcher, check out Petriello’s full article on MLB.com. And in case you’re wondering, Yadier Molina ranks as the 8th-best catcher in the league.
As for Contreras, Petriello, like Buster Olney before him, believes that the sky’s the limit. In fact, he believes that the space between Contreras and the No. 2 ranked Gary Sanchez is actually a lot smaller than people would think. Given that Buster Posey is the clear gold standard, coming in just barely behind the second-best catcher in baseball is quite the testament to Contreras’ perceived value around baseball.
And from the sounds of it, Contreras can overtake Sanchez if he’s able to improve upon his pitch framing in the coming season(s). Unfortunately, it looks like he did take a pretty major step back last season (versus 2016).
Willson Contreras was the biggest offender [on the drop off in pitch framing] for the Cubs in 2017. For all the great things he does behind the plate (not to mention at it), he struggled with framing by the metrics: his negative 6.3 Framing Runs was 98th out of 110 big league catchers.
Indeed, as you can see at Statcorner, Contreras’ zBall% (the percentage of balls thrown in the strike zone that were called strikes) and his oStrike% (the percentage of balls thrown out of the strike zone that were called strikes) both moved in the wrong direction last season:
’16 zBall%: 13.2%
’17 zBall%: 17.2%
’16 oStrike%: 8.1%
’17 oStrike%: 6.5%
In other words, he got more should-be strikes called balls and fewer should-be balls called strikes in 2017 versus 2016. If he can get his numbers even back to his 2016 form, however, while continuing to impress/progress at the plate, he can take that final step forward into the super-elite tier of active catchers in baseball.
In the meantime, being the third best catcher in baseball is pretty darn good. And he has said he expects to be the best, so you should be surprised by even more upward trajectory for Contreras this year.