by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
When we think of the elite catchers in the league Gary Sanchez is the easy selection as the best of the best. Buster Posey, who once held that title, is a step behind entering 2018 but he’s still among the better options. J.T. Realmuto? While we believe (he was ranked #2 in the initial posting of our Top 15, which you can view by clicking here), others likely do not.
Then there’s the Cubs’ Willson Contreras, who most want to believe belongs in the top class. The numbers from last season seem to support that conclusion as well:
377 At Bats
.276 Batting Average (104 Hits)
21 Home Runs
5 Stolen Bases
.356 On Base Percentage
.499 Slugging Percentage
.319 Batting Average on Balls in Play
We’ve touched on him before, but many still don’t believe in our assessment. So why do we think that the perception will cause him to be among the most over drafted players heading into 2018? Let’s take a look:
Obviously it would appear to be his carrying tool, and the number last season was impressive. While he was fairly consistent, there is an obvious red flag that can’t be ignored:
- First Half – 20.4% HR/FB
- Second Half – 37.0% HR/FB
Does anyone truly believe that he can maintain that second half mark? In the first half he averaged a home run every 22.6 AB (in the second half he was at a home run every 12.8 AB). We all know catchers aren’t going to play every day, so even if you want to assume that he gets 450 AB the first half mark would put him on pace for 20 HR on the season. Want to split the difference and assume he can maintain around a home run every 17 AB? That puts him in the 25-27 HR range.
Throw in a 53.3% groundball rate and coming in closer to the first half mark becomes that much more believable. Last season there were 13 catchers who hit at least 17 HR and six who hit 20 HR or more. Obviously Contreras has power and an advantage over much of the field, but he’s not the 30-35 HR threat that many want to believe.
Overvaluing his power is likely going to be the key mistake.
This goes hand-in-hand with the power risk, because a drop in power is going to bring added risk to the average. While he was solid last season overall, these two marks bring significant concern:
- SwStr% – 13.4%
- Line Drive Rate – 17.4%
An increase in his strikeout rate (22.9%) is likely as things are, but what happens when he starts to see fewer fastballs? Look at the Whiff% by pitch type:
- Hard – 10.12%
- Breaking Balls – 18.83%
- Offspeed – 25.36%
So it’s likely that the strikeouts rise even further, and the bulk of his power came against fastballs as well… In other words the outlook gets cloudier.
This isn’t to say that Contreras isn’t going to be a solid option in ’18. However there’s risk as his power is going to be solid, but not necessarily stand out, and it’s far more likely that he hits .250 instead of .290. He also could lose AB to other options, like Victor Caratini, which would further cast some doubt. Don’t make the mistake of “reaching” for him like he’s one of the elite, because it’s far more likely that he falls short.
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball, CBS Sports
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|Starting Pitchers||1-20: 03/24/18|