For all his myriad talents, Willson Contreras always received criticism for his subpar pitch-framing skills. That may be a thing of the past, because Contreras is now stealing pitches at the bottom of the strike zone at an eye-popping rate.
In 2019, he was particularly meh against pitches at the knees. So far this season, though, we see that 80% of pitches thrown offset, below the zone have been called strikes. That’s nearly a four-fold increase in his called-strike rate.
View this post on Instagram
Wilson Contreras – Chicago Cubs Regular Season 2019 v Spring Training 2020. Up down arm/glove pattern in ‘19. Down, relaxed, up through arm/glove pattern in ‘20. Efficiency. #catching #catchers #pitchersandcatchers #pitching #pitch #baseball #catcherswag #infield #baseballfield #hat #infielder #outfielder #baseballplayer #softball #college #collegebaseball #probaseball #catcherlifestyle #majorleaguebaseball #minorleaguebaseball
How did Contreras suddenly turn into an elite pitch framer? Is it because former catcher and teammate David Ross is now the manager? What about new catching and first base coach, Craig Driver? Is it an admirable work ethic? The answer is probably all the above.
“[Willson] is consistently taking his glove from the target to the ground, and then allows himself to work up to the ball,” Driver told The Athletic back in July. “The big reason for that is every pitch but fastballs — and some fastballs for that matter — move down. So the catcher’s ability to work up through the ball as they catch it has a huge impact on their ability to get pitches at the bottom of the strike zone.
“And in general, the guys that control the bottom of the zone are the ones that have more success as pitch framers. The ones that can’t control the bottom of the zone have less success and that all stems from working below the ball.”
Long known for his offensive output and throwing runners out on the bases, Contreras has legitimately transformed his pitch framing. As a result, he should be considered not just one of the league’s best catchers but also one of the league’s best overall players.