Willson Contreras is an above-average hitting catcher and if he isn’t traded before the year starts, if the Cubs struggle, he could be on the move. Across 57 games in 2020, Contreras hit seven home runs, drove in 26 runners and slashed .243/.356/.407. He wasn’t quite as good as he was in 2019, but he was better than 2018 at least. His walk rate and strikeout rate were on par with recent seasons, but his .164 ISO left a lot to be desired in 2020. He’s had years with at least 20 home runs, one year where he homered 12 times in 76 games, and last year’s seven round trippers across 58 games. However, in 2018, he hit just 10 home runs over 138 games (474 at-bats). With the catcher position providing more power options, unless Contreras can hit for a solid average while maintaining some pop, it’s going to be hard to justify taking him as the fifth catcher off the board, per NFBC data.
His launch angle was up in2020, and his barrel rate was above 10 percent for the second straight season. Furthermore, his average exit velocity was up, and he continues to hit fewer ground balls. So, how in the hell did his HR/FB ratio get nearly cut in half compared to 2019, and be four percentage points below his career average (19.9%)?
His average exit velocity jumped, but was it in the right capacity for home runs?
Nope. Contreras’ average exit velocity on just fly balls and line drives was the second-best mark of his career.
Take a look here at Contreras’ numbers for his entire career on his fly ball numbers to different parts of the field:
Like most hitters, Contreras’ wheelhouse and main power alley is pulling the baseball. In 2020, only 15.9 percent of the fly balls he hit were pulled, compared to 52.3 percent to center field, and 31.8 percent to opposite field. He pulled less fly balls and hit more to centerfield, and while his numbers to center field are far from horrible, only 22 of his 74 career home runs have been to center field, whereas half of them (37) have been pulled. More sustainable power and a return to the low-20s in terms of at-bats for home runs for Contreras starts with getting back to his career norms in pulling the baseball in the air.
Something to celebrate from Contreras’ 2020 season is that it was the first season of his career that he posted a ground ball rate below 50 percent!
From the graph above you can see that since he’s entered the league, his ground ball rate continues to shrink. As expected, his FB/GB ratio continues to improve as well, and it’s slowly but surely working its way closer and closer to 1.
Between 2019 and 2020, Contreras has a perfect 162 games under his belt, and he’s put forth a stat line of the following:
31 home runs, 94 runs scored, 90 RBI, 2 stolen bases and a slash line of .262/.355/.490
Contreras will likely, almost definitely never play 162 games in a season due to the nature of the beast that is the catcher position, but those numbers above, minus the slash line, would be career bests for the 28-year-old backstop.
There’s enough pop in the Chicago lineup to help his counting stats, but should he get traded, his fantasy value could go either way. If he were to go to a team in the American League, he’s a good enough hitter that he’d likely get his off days at the designated hitter position, which would be ideal.
Contreras is a tough read for fantasy baseball this season, because sure, he can hit for a decent average, but if he doesn’t give you around 20 home runs, despite being one of the first three or four people in your league to take a catcher, you didn’t really gain an advantage over others.
Per Steamer projections, there are four catchers predicted to hit at least 20 home runs. Contreras is not one of them.
There are seven catchers projected to hit at least .260. Contreras is not one of them.
Contreras is sort of in a “jack of all trades but master of none” tier. He is fine at each category, but doesn’t overwhelmingly excel in any of them. You can get similar numbers a bit later from the likes of Travis d’Arnaud or Christian Vázquez .
In two catcher formats, you can make the case for Contreras, but in one catcher setups, he doesn’t do enough in any particular category to make me jump at his current price, which is only rising may I add. I get it, there’s safety in security, and for the most part, he’s been a reliable fantasy backstop, but there’s a lot of value to be had a bit later that, at the price point, are more attractive than Contreras. Now, if he were to get traded to a great spot, things could change there, however, if the public and groupthink send his average draft position through the roof, it’s going to be tough to justify.