The people in charge don’t want them to do anything. The masses still love them. And the players themselves are going to have to force the powers that be to pay attention and make them do what they should have done long ago. The Chicago Cubs, the players that is, are the Yes Movement. And we’ll start with perhaps the emotional heartbeat of it, and perhaps the second biggest surprise at still being here, Willson Contreras.
Willson Contreras 2019
105 games, 409 PA
.368 wOBA, 127 wRC+
9.3 BB%, 24.3 K%
-0.3 Defensive Runs
Amidst the constant trade rumors, all the other horseshit that went on with the Cubs during the season and in the offseason, it’s pretty easy to forget that Willy was the best offensive catcher in the NL last year, and would have been for all of baseball except for whatever the fuck happened to Mitch Garver last year. Since he came into the league in 2016, Contreras’s 117 wRC+ is only behind Grandal (118), Sanchez (123), and Garver (128), and the latter two don’t have nearly the amount of time in the league. That’s what you’re dealing with. Contrerases don’t grow on trees, and that the Cubs would so willingly toss him overboard out of terror of what he will rightly earn is bordering on ludicrous.
YES! YES! YES!: The questions about Willy always revolve around his framing. He hasn’t been very good at it since his rookie year, when he was, and because his arm is so good and he’s never been shy about showing it, he’s kind of rendered it almost useless as a weapon. So overall his defensive numbers have suffered Runners simply don’t go on him, and they rarely venture too far off the bases and if they do they’re hyper-aware of making sure to not get picked off. Keeping runners anchored has value, but not as much as value as cutting them down altogether. So if Willy is going to raise his overall value, it’s going to come from stealing strikes.
The Cubs had David Ross work with Contreras last spring training to try and improve it. He got better as the season went along by most measures, According to Baseball Savant, he was actually just above water in it. The Cubs have brought in Craig Driver from Philly to improve it even more, as he worked magic with JT Realmuto and others.
Because Willy is going to hit. He always has. 2018 seems to be the aberration, but his hard-contact rates bounced back up last year to near 40%, and considering he’s in his prime there’s no reason to think that won’t remain the case. And he’s never going to have that 9% HR/FB rate again as he did in ’18.
The thing with Willson, and he’s taking on more of this because of how the whole team does, is there’s always worry about how much he makes contact. The thought is you can strike him out in big spots if you need to. And it’s not totally wrong. Willy has always been below the league-average in contact rate, and more swing and miss. His 92 wRC+ in high-leverage situations, along with a 31 K%, suggests that when pitchers lock in, they can get him. But that’s if you buy into “clutch” or not.
So the big thing at the plate, instead of behind it, will be if Willy can improve his contact rates, especially in big spots. That means he’s got to be better high in the zone, and especially above it. You can beat Contreras with high fastballs either at the top of the zone or above it, and he’s going to have to lay off the latter more often to get the pitches he can crush.
You’re A B+ Player: The way it goes wrong is A. Willy is traded midseason, which we can’t rule out, or B. all of the things above don’t happen. Willy can’t nail down improvements in framing, and this rotation is going to need all the help it can get. And Contreras continues to chase high fastballs above his hands, especially in the big spots, and he can’t get that K-rate closer to 20%. The 25% of last year seems on the high side, but he’s never been below 22%. Willy takes his walks, he just needs to get more balls in play. Do that, and he’ll be an All-star again and the Cubs lineup goes from pretty good to bordering on frightening.
Endgame: Willy is going to be one of the most important Cubs, because he always is. And he’s going to hit. And given how his framing numbers arced up last year as the season went on, that should continue, though he’s never going to be Grandal or Flowers in that category. And Willy is the type to take the trade rumors and the noise and turn into a giant middle finger toward opponents and his own bosses. While he’s not the best player on the team, he seems to be the measuring stick. When he’s ticking over, the Cubs are good. When he’s hurt or struggling, so are the Cubs. He keeps things lively.
As he gets deeper into arbitration, and deeply set on proving how valuable he is to the team, I would expect big things from #40. And I would expect it to be loud. Because Willy doesn’t do quiet.