We move along…well, we’re not really moving along because we’re staying behind the plate. For a large swath of the offseason, it was thought that Victor Caratini would move into the starter’s role as the Cubs cashed in on Willson Contereras. But that didn’t happen, or hasn’t happened yet, and Caratini will remain in a role we’re fairly sure he’s pretty good at. Let’s dive in.
Quite the year for Victor, who started spring training as something of an afterthought and now could very well be in line for a starting job in 2020, be it here or elsewhere as trade bait. Has he earned that? Let’s find out…
11 HR 31 RBI
10.4 BB% 21.1 K%
.338 wOBA 108 wRC+ .794 OPS
+4.3 Defensive Runs Saved
Tell Me A Story: When the Cubs were in Mesa, most every Cubs blogger and fan was losing their mud over the fact that the Cubs didn’t have a backup catcher. One of 2018’s major problems was Willson Contreras playing far too many games and tiring out, and Caratini’s brief cameo didn’t really convince anyone. It went from that in March to Caratini playing well enough in the season’s opening weeks that everyone found more mud to lose (it’s getting unhealthy now) when he broke his hand and had to miss a month (but hey, it gave us the Taylor Davis grand slam against the Cardinals. Boy it seemed so innocent then). And now it’s ended with some calling, or just thinking the Cubs think, that Caratini is absolutely a viable option to take over as starter if the Cubs move Contreras for pitching or centerfield help. As the one true Jokes would say, “Oh what a day what a day…”
So how was Caratini able to go from an offensively-absent seat-filler to a productive hitter? Becoming extremely patient certainly helped, as Caratini nearly doubled his walk-rate from ’18 to ’19 and was well above league average with that 10.4% mark. While Caratini still chased the same percentage of pitches out of the zone (though he did so at well below league average), he became far more aggressive on pitches in the zone. This saw him up his hard-contact rate to about a third of the time, which isn’t great but was definitely better than he’d been. And like with everyone else, we don’t really know how to adjust these numbers for the baseball.
Perhaps more encouragingly is that Victor was able to hit a range of pitches. He didn’t just hit mistake fastballs, though obviously one can make a career out of that. Victor did most of his work on fastballs but also mashed on changes and sliders, including a .622 slugging on the latter. Curveballs from right-handed pitchers were a bit of an issue, and one he might see more of with greater playing time.
Defensively, Victor improved massively as well, doubling up Willson’s framing numbers in about half of the time, which is where some people’s focus is centered. Victor doesn’t have nearly the arm that Willson does, but he bought his pitchers a lot more strikes, and was actually up among the best in the league in framing runs even though he hardly played full-time. So the question for the Cubs will be which is more important as we roll along here.
Contract: Team control for next season, arbitration eligible in 2021
Welcome Back Or Boot In The Ass: Most certainly welcome back unless some other team makes a generous offer for him. Considering he costs nothing at the moment, at worst he’s one of the better backup catchers in the league. The question will be whether the Cubs think he can be a starter, depending on if they have an inclination to see what’s out there for Contreras. Caratini is 26, so while his experience level suggests there could still be some growth, his aging curve suggests this is probably about what he’ll be. And that is a very good receiver with only a passable arm at best, and just about a league-average hitter. Over a full season he might be a 2-2.5 WAR player. But then that’s really only a tick or two below what Contreras was this season, though that’s partly due to injury and his framing problems earlier in the year.
The Cubs could carry Caratini as a starter with a few adjustments. One, a heavy return on Contreras. Two, they’d have to get more offense from second base and center field, or just a lot more offense from one of them. Third, they’d probably have to have a backup with a big arm for Lester starts, and whoever ends up being in the rotation aside from Darvish, Hendricks, and Q. Otherwise teams in big games will run all over Lester.
There isn’t a lot of air to Caratini’s stats, so a major regression doesn’t seem on the cards offensively. He doesn’t whiff a lot, which the Cubs will be curious about. He doesn’t have an alarmingly high BABIP or anything. But he also doesn’t hit the ball very hard. And remember, to give him the starting job you’d be giving one of the best offensive catchers in the game, which just don’t come around that often. It’s a big risk. Does Caratini’s framing and contact make it worthwhile? A lot of variables here, but it would not be a surprise if the Cubs bet that it does.
Previous Cubs Reviews
Figured I’d start these off with the player I feel, and somewhat fear, is going to be the name you hear most in trade rumors. Seems like the Cubs, both fans and front office, have forgotten what a unique toy they have in #40. But he also might be the most expendable, even if he isn’t all that expendable.
24 HR 64 RBI
9.3 BB% 24.9 K%
.368 wOBA 127 wRC+ .888 OPS
-0.3 Defensive Runs Saved
Tell Me A Story: Ok, so here’s the thing. How many catchers had a better wRC+ than Contreras this season? One, that was Mitch Garver (one of the 27 Twins to hit 30+ homers out of nowhere for no reason, in case you were wondering). How many catchers had a better OPS? Again, one. Again, Garver. Again, for no reason. So you’re dealing with basically a unicorn when it comes to offense from catchers in Willson. Since he became the full-time starter in 2017, the only catcher with a better wRC+ is Yasmani Grandal, and no one has a better wOBA. He’s a genuine treasure, with at least the bat. We’ll get to that in a second, though.
The problem for Contreras in the 2018 campaign is that his power went to the land of wind and ghosts. He only hit 10 homers, and slugged .390. We knew it was strange then, and probably something that wouldn’t continue. Willson’s hard-contact rate was below 30%. Maybe he made an adjustment, or maybe he was carrying an injury the whole time. Whatever it was, all of his numbers jumped this year back to what we know they should be, and in fact were career-highs. You have to normalize it with the golf ball being used every day, but still felt like he was returning to the norms of his first season and a half in the Majors.
There was a lot of discussion about Willson’s defense, specifically his framing, throughout the season. And a good portion of it is noise, but let’s work it through. It’s been two seasons since Willson posted a positive Defensive Runs Saved mark. One part of that is the league is now so aware of his arm, that he almost never gets to use it. When he does, he seems so excited by the opportunity he’s lasers it into the outfield more often. So he doesn’t get much of a chance to throw out runners to boost that metric.
The other part is obviously framing. But here’s the thing, midway through the season Contreras’s framing stats were all in the negative. He ended the season on the positive side of the ledger, though still some way behind Victor Caratini. Or at least close to it, depending on whose numbers you use. It’s something he was clearly working on, made an adjustment, and if the Cubs were to hire…oh I don’t know, David Ross as a manager, he would have someone with him every day to work on it with. He probably will never be Grandal back there, but he can be good as there’s still time for him to upswing.
The issue for Contreras is the contact. His contact in the zone and overall still lags behind league average, and this is something the Cubs are obviously going to try and improve somewhere next season. He’s always lagged behind, and in the season’s dying embers he seemed to be a poster-boy for poor approach with runners on, and one I was happy to echo. The Cubs have to improve their contact skills somewhere, after all.
Contract: Arbitration eligible for next three seasons. Likely to earn $5M or so.
Welcome Back Or Boot In The Ass?: This is so hard. Again, you just don’t find catchers who can hit like Willson, and the defense can and probably will improve if he wants it to. Even as he heads into arbitration, he’ll make nothing compared to the production you get. If Grandal is basically the same guy, at least offensively, he makes at least three times more than what Willson will likely get in his first arbitration spin and even that was considered low-ball.
Except all of that is also why he probably carries the most trade value. And unlike Schwarber, you probably don’t have to pay through the nose to replace him, as you have an in-house candidate in Caratini. He’ll never hit for near the power of Contreras and runners might pass out from joy when he’s catching Lester next year, but he’s the better framer and makes more contact. You’d still be downgrading the position, even more so if robot umps are in our near future, but not so much you couldn’t justify it.
Justify it depending on the return, that is. Just like anything else, you can’t trade Contreras just for the sake of it. You won’t have another like him behind the plate for years, and we know this because the Cubs didn’t. But if you can get a starter that slots ahead of Quintana and Lester for him or more, you would have to think long and hard about it. Maybe even a long-term solution in center, though I have no idea who that would be. And when I say starter, I’m thinking like Thor. And don’t tell me you couldn’t get the Mets to bite on that one, because you can get the Mets to bite on anything.
Or the consolation is you bring the best or second-best hitting catcher in the game back, have him keep working on his defense and take your .900 OPS or thereabouts and get on with your life. Doesn’t seem so bad.
While the Cubs may be the only team, or fanbase, that still gets shivers when thinking about the Mets, it’s also important to remember they’re still the Mets. Which means they can METS at anytime, and it just might be for your benefit if you time it right. There was no better cure for the Cubs than the Mets on a downswing, And once again, this team looks on the upswing, and we’re just going to have to get used to the ride if you haven’t already.
-I wish Yu Darvish‘s overall numbers reflected how good he’s been lately. This fucking baseball, amirite? It’s something when walking one dude is newsworthy, but the Mets weren’t anywhere close to him. Then again, no one has been lately except for that weirdness with the Giants. He apparently struck out Jeff McNeil with a knuckle-curve he just decided a week ago to fuck with. That’s the good stuff, baby. It’s gone to where you’re actively looking forward to his start Sunday.
-Of course Kyle Hendricks would fail to get through five with a nine-run lead on the same day I went at it with Joe Sheehan about calling him a #3 starter. Timing, Cerebral Assassin!
-It can be a little upsetting when Baez busts out by going the other way and up the middle, because he should never get away from it. But as long as he gets back there, because the Cubs will need him.
-Ok, that’s enough of Jason Heyward in the leadoff spot. Yes, he doesn’t want to be moved around, but he lost the right to complain by not being able to hit a bull in the ass with a banjo since he moved there. Back to Schwarbs, now.
-The first inning off Thor might have been the most enjoyable inning of the whole season. Not only did the Cubs tee off on a premier starter we had turned into Darth Vader in our heads, but it contained some true Mets-iness with Rosario’s error that started it all. Without that, they might not even get one.
-Remember when everyone was shitting themselves that the Cubs didn’t have a backup catcher? That Willson would die of exhaustion because of it? Good stuff there.
-It felt like it was going to be one of THOSE Lester starts. Itchy, sweaty, twitchy, yell-y, bad. When he gets through five or six innings well, it still doesn’t feel like it. You kind of wonder how he did it. But if we call him the 5th starter, that’s what 5th starters do. It’s never really comfortable unless you’re blessed.
-This pen can make last night’s game interesting, and then smother for nine outs tonight, because they hate us. I kind of wanted to see if Chatwood could take it to the house, but with Kintzler not having thrown on Wednesday it’s fine. I’m not going to lose a kidney over it.
-I was going to shit a chicken over removing Schwarber and Happ for Lucroy and Kemp against deGrom, as it felt like Maddon felt that two of three was enough and tonight was a bonus. The Cubs have lost that right. But hey, whatever works. Though I don’t need to see Kemp start again, I really don’t.
Can end the Brewers season over the next week. Onwards…
I think I dislike this team more when they beat the shit out of opponents now than I do when they lose.
Because that looked effortless. That was a display of what we thought/think is the gulf in class between these two teams. The Brewers, especially after the injuries they’ve had, can’t come close to the starting pitching the Cubs have. We saw that in ways last weekend as well. So they scored five runs, and only three of them off the Cubs trio of Quintana, Hamels, and Darvish.
But the difference is the Cubs offense treated the Brewers starters, except for Gio Gonzalez because of course, as they’re supposed to be treated. And the only difference is that they were at home instead on the road, which you’ll never convinced me should be that big of a factor and is just something weird. The Cubs came into this one game ahead of the Brewers and they’ll leave it four ahead now, which for a team like Milwaukee that has about two starters right now is a little more than it sounds.
Especially today, when the Cubs were happy to just take things to the opposite field and take their walks and get the hits they needed to make this one pretty uncompetitive after the second inning. Hell, they even got good bullpen management today with Chatwood getting the old school save, something we haven’t seen enough of. Fuck, they got seven runs today with no Bryant or Contreras. IT COULD NOT BE ANY SIMPLER, LUANNE!
So why is this so hard? Can’t you do this most of the time? Fuck, even three more weeks of play like this probably wins the division as long as you don’t vomit blood the rest of the year. It just can’t be that complicated.
Anyway, to it…
The Two Obs
-Of course, it can’t all be roses with the Cubs. Contreras’s injury hangs over all, and that looks to be of the three-to-four week variety, maybe more if you want to be safe. We saw this injury make the 2017 season end something of a slog. While Victor Caratini has been serviceable, this is where you fear he’ll be exposed.
It would be easy to rant and rave about the Cubs having three catchers not a week ago, and Maldonado at least gives you the defense. But there’s not much you can do about that now, and Kemp probably gives you the same value. Hell. Taylor Davis can catch the ball at least.
The Cubs could more easily survive if Bryant was healthy, which one day off isn’t going to make him. And now there’s less chance of an IL stay for him to try and get healthy. Rizzo’s four hits today are how you make up for it, Castellanos helps, and Schwarber binge wouldn’t go amiss either.
-I was not a fan of Maddon’s handling of the staff on Saturday, but he got away with it. In the sixth, after the Cubs were never going to get more than five out of Hamels, he sent out David Phelps to deal with the top of the Brewers lineup. It went about as well as you would have thought, though it’s not like Cain crushed his infield single. To me, that’s the big point in the game there, and the thought should be by the time the top of the lineup rolls around again it’s the 9th and Kimbrel is dealing with it anyway, or it’s the 8th and Kintzler is. And to be fair to Phelps, Braun’s RBI single was a piece of shit desperation heave that the other nine times out of ten is an out. Still, I’d rather have Wick or Ryan working through the top of the lineup and then Phelps dealing with the top, and I don’t really care what inning it is.
-Everything Castellanos hits has been a line drive of late.
-Why did it take this long to just let Heyward bat leadoff? I know he’s hated it in the past but he seems amenable now and well, look how it’s going.
-Quite the world when Ian Happ is considered a defensive replacement.