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.

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