Foresight 2020: Can Willson Contreras maintain his 2019 form?
Hindsight is 20/20, they always say. But as the 2020 Cubs season gets underway, we don’t have the benefit of hindsight — foresight is the only option at the moment. So let’s play a game of 20 questions, tackling the most important topics surrounding this Cubs team entering the campaign.
Next up: Can Willson Contreras maintain his 2019?
While the 2019 Cubs season might ultimately be remembered by Cubs fans in a sour light, it shouldn’t be completely thought of as disappointment.
Not when there were so many silver linings in the season, like the stellar 2019 Willson Contreras put together.
Contreras broke through and proved to be one of the elite backstops in MLB with his bat, clubbing 24 home runs, the sixth most among catchers and third most in the National League behind Yasmani Grandal (28) and J.T. Realmuto (25). Contreras also did that while playing fewer games (105) than Grandal (153) and Realmuto (145) after missing a month with a hamstring injury.
It took only one at-bat for Contreras to show off his pop during spring training, blasting a solo shot to left-center field off the A’s Lou Trivino in the Cubs’ first spring training game of the year.
It’s been a strong spring overall for Contreras, who has 2 home runs and a slash line of .292/.346/.583 in 26 plate appearances.
Even with the missed time, Contreras was tied for sixth among MLB backstops with a 3.1 WAR (per Baseball Reference) last season. He has the potential to take that next step and move into the conversation as the top catcher in the league.
To do that, though, he’ll have to avoid the injury bug that hit him in 2019.
“That’s my first goal this year – stay healthy throughout the whole year,” Contreras said. “Be smart running the bases, be smart listening to my body whenever I’m tired or not. Just try to be smart about it. I worked so hard with my legs during the offseason that I’m expecting to be healthy the whole season.”
When you dig beyond traditional metrics and even some advanced metrics, you can start to feel even more confident that Contreras will continue his stellar play in 2020.
He had an 88.3 mph exit velocity in 2019, the highest of his career and also saw an increase in his hard-hit rate to 41.5 percent, also the highest of his career.
Contreras did better with his pitch recognition, too. In 2018, Contreras struggled with breaking balls and off-speed pitches, to the tune of a .242 batting average against breaking balls and a .171 average on off-speed pitches, per MLB Statcast. In 2019, Contreras improved hitting against those pitches, hitting .305 against breaking balls and .273 on off-speed pitches.
He’s also drawn rave reviews from the Cubs pitching staff for how he’s developed as a defensive backstop and game-caller and still possesses one of the game’s strongest arms.
A healthy Contreras in 2020 – coupled with backup Victor Caratini – gives the Cubs arguably the best catching tandem in the big leagues and should provide elite offense from a non-traditional position.
As we approach the start of the regular season, read more on our “Foresight is 2020” series:
–Will Nico Hoerner start the year in the majors?
–How does Jason Kipnis fit into the Cubs mix?
–How will second base shake out?
–Will Jeremy Jeffress regain his 2018 dominance?
–Will Craig Kimbrel bounce back with a normal offseason/spring training?
–Who will emerge in Cubs bullpen?
–Can Kyle Schwarber put it all together after a huge second half?
–What role will Steven Souza Jr. have?
-Will somebody grab the everyday center field role?
-Can Willson Contreras maintain his 2019?