Metrics Show Willson Contreras Getting Worse Behind Plate

Eyebrows rose when recent reports suggested the Cubs were willing to entertain offers for Willson Contreras. Just the thought of Contreras in another uniform seems wild, but the report was prompted by another that suggested Marlins catcher JT Realmuto is on the Cubs’ radar.  Replacing Contreras, a 26-year-old boasting a .344 career wOBA, with the 27-year-old Realmuto and his .329 wOBA seems a little weird, right? Maybe, maybe not.

In addition to an underwhelming 2018 offensive showing in which Contreras finished with only 10 homers, the jubilant catcher also continued to struggle defensively. Contreras ranked 116th of 117 qualifying catchers in FRAA, which takes into account framing, blocking, and throwing. Realmuto ranked 22nd.

Now, I know quantifying a catcher’s defensive value is pretty difficult, and seeing Contreras ranked so low with that cannon of an arm doesn’t seem right. But despite some limitations, Baseball Prospectus has done a darn good job of carefully crafting their catching stats. You can read about their methodology here if you’re so inclined.

What’s far more disconcerting than the 2018 results is that Contreras hasn’t improved his defensive value over three seasons. In fact, he’s actually gotten worse. He saved his team 7.6 runs during his debut season in 2016, but followed up by costing the Cubs 1.1 runs in 2017 and finally hitting rock-bottom by giving away 15.4 runs last season.

This isn’t to suggest that Contreras sucks. Many executives would probably jump off a cliff to acquire his skillset and four years of control. It’s just that there might be some issues that the Cubs are having a hard time ignoring, like whether Contreras’ bat can once again meet expectations and whether he can improve defensively at this point.

Brendan Miller

Brendan Miller is part of the Cubs Related Podcast duo with Corey Freedman. Brendan, who has twice as many Twitter followers as Corey, often writes about baseball analytics and scouting for Cubs Insider.

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  1. This is interesting. Definitely puts some weight behind the Cubs are looking at Realmuto and potentially offering Willy up.

    1. If Realmuto is all that, they would not trade him, and actually they probably won’t.
      I am content with Contreras anyway.

  2. I think he is pressing and this year was clearly a negative outlier. I trust the front office. If they believe they can move Contreras and get back value, then do it. We can’t allow ourselves to get mad later when Contreras possibly becomes the best catcher in baseball.

    1. Big mistake. They will
      NEVER get the value back for a catcher like him. Are you kidding me? Most teams are LOOKING for a Contreras.

      How bout getting rid of Happ or Russell or Schwarber or Almora (although I really like AA).

      1. Get rid of Happ or Russell, but not the others. If I were manager, Almora would be in CF every day. Schwarber right now is their best hitting outfielder.

        1. As we have discussed before Allan, I really like Almora also, but I would have to keep Willy over him, if put to a vote. Good catchers r really tough to find! And it’s harder for the genius to platoon catchers, other than for rest. LoL

          Still don’t think KS is every day player, but I was just talking about who to get rid of INSTEAD of Willy.

          Theo hasn’t acknowledged any of this drivel however, so it may b just a blogger w nothing else to do.

          1. KS is an above average LF with a very good arm. He will be an all-star if not in 2019 then in 2020. Have patience grasshopper.

          2. LoL. No. Patience is generally for losers. Patience is the essence of most Cubs fans. That’s why we sucked all those years. We just don’t have time to wait for him & others to “develop” Allan, but that time will tell. The eye test tells me he is what he is.

            And that MAY be fine, but don’t count on him becoming much more.

  3. This article is mainly dribble & who really wants to read all the inside stats? The deal is he sucked at hitting this year & suddenly some stat dweeb says everything is bad.

    Let’s do bottom line stuff here & forgot all this FRAMING crap which is recent overrated nonsense. He controls runners, particularly with Lester’s no-base throwing ass.

    Sure, he can get better @ blocking the plate, but that can get better. With that arm of his, all I care about is controlling the bases & not throwing the ball away too often. IMO the so-called framing issues are a direct consequences of less control by our pitchers, particularly Chatwood, Edwards & Quintana, among others. You trying to tell me that umpires are so stupid that they don’t know the difference from a FRAMED pitch to when it actually crosses the plate?? PLEASE.

    And finally, I’d like to see K-zone take over strikes anyway. Umps have actually gotten worse with their INTERPRETATIONS of K zone. Just ridiculous. My advice to Willson? Improve your hitting & just relax. Everything else will take care of itself.

    1. As much as I try not to police much on here, I do ask that people at least make an attempt to be constructive if they attempt to level criticism. Your opener not only conjures basketball, it asks a rhetorical question that seems pretty silly in light of the fact that we do get into a lot of stats here.

      As for the subsequent remark, this is a blog and everything here is literally the result of a blogger with nothing else to do. And of course Epstein hasn’t publicly said, “You know, Willy’s displaying worse tendencies behind the plate and we’re really worried about that.”

      So I’d ask that in the future, you try to be more constructive and/or cognizant of the platform.

        1. It’s not opinion to point out that, statistically speaking, Contreras has gotten worse. That’s like saying it’s your opinion that the temperature is dropping.

          1. Yes, it is a display of my massive ego to point out that your criticism of opinion and speculation is misplaced.

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