For a player who was *very credibly* in the conversation for potential top 10 most valuable players in the National League just a couple years ago, it sure seems like the “here’s an issue with Willson Contreras” conversation comes up a lot.
It’s not that it’s without reason – Contreras’s uneven 2018 season at the plate wound up cratering in the second half to such an extent that he had one of the least potent bats in the league, and his pitch-framing rated as among the worst in baseball – but I don’t want to lose the forest for the trees. Contreras, 26, is an incredibly talented young baseball player. And although progress is not linear, incredibly talented young baseball players frequently get a lot better.
With Contreras, that improvement could come at the plate as the power returns, and the framing skills could take a big step forward by getting the right tips and working on it the right way. On that front, we apparently have his little brother to thank:
Cubs catcher Willson Contreras turned to his brother to improve his pitch framing.
— Chicago Sports (@ChicagoSports) March 1, 2019
— The Athletic (@TheAthleticCHI) March 1, 2019
You’ll note that The Athletic piece also has a good deal on what Contreras is trying to do this Spring to counteract some tardiness in his swing from last year – i.e., starting his load earlier.
Contreras talks about how he was a little too stiff in his receiving behind the plate, and together with his brother – a quality catching prospect in the Braves organization – he realized he could relax his hand more if he turned the glove hand just a little bit. Perhaps that relaxed receiving will allow him to show strikes to the umpires a little bit better, though I do think Contreras also has to work on staying “quiet” in his movements behind the plate, as David Ross mentioned to him earlier in camp.
Framing is one of those extremely important areas of the game where players can and often do make enormous strides in a single offseason, so it’s completely fair and reasonable to hold out hope that Contreras can improve to average or better, stripping away a detraction from his game that could be worth as much 15 runs BELOW average over the course of a season (10 runs, approximately, translates to a win).