The Cubs only managed to get 22 games in over this first month of the season, so numbers are even more skewed than they might be as April fades away. The Cubs bats have at times been explosive, but recently have gone quiet, and not everyone is clicking. While Schwarber, Báez, and Almora have brought the noise, they’re matched by Rizzo, Russell, and Contreras forgetting to turn their amps on.
Rizzo has the excuse of being hurt and then getting over it, and Russell seems to be trying a new approach so far (that a very handsome and talented writer noticed). So what’s going on with Contreras?
Slick Willy C only has the one homer on the year, belted in Cleveland last Tuesday. His slugging is down 57 points from last year, which will probably happen when you only have one homer, even though his batting average and on-base are almost identical to his breakout 2017. Contreras does have eight doubles in 19 games, which would see him end up with somewhere over 40 doubles over a whole year. You’d certainly buy that for a dollar. But why can’t Willy send balls beyond the wall so far?
Well let’s clear one thing out of the way: the Cubs have played in mostly abhorrent weather which hasn’t been conducive to loud noise from the bat. Still, that hasn’t stopped Báez or Schwarber, so there’s got to be more to it.
Contreras has caught onto baseball’s fashion sense as it were, as he’s upped the number of flies he’s hit so far, to 41 percent from 29.3 last year. Nothing wrong with that. The problems begin when you see he’s got a heretical 4% HR/FB rate. That simply can’t last due to the rules of the universe, and if it does I look forward to Willson challenging the baseball gods to a fistfight after the season. And winning. So that will go up.
However, it’s not that simple. Contreras’s hard-contact rate overall is down some six points from last year, from 35.5 percent to 29.5 this year, which isn’t where you want to be. More worryingly, on just fly-balls Willson’s hard-contact rate is just 28 percent, whereas last year it was as 49.4. So he’s getting more baseballs in the air, but far more of them are a kitten’s paw instead of a tiger’s claw (I’m a writer, don’t ya know?).
So why’s that? That’s harder to tell. Pitchers aren’t approaching Contreras radically differently than last year, though there’s been some change. He’s seeing fewer fastballs, which happens to every hitter who proves he’s a danger in the box. The amount of sliders, cutters, and curves is up as well, though only slightly. Willson murdered sliders last year, to the tune of a .551 slugging percentage. But so far this year that’s just .350. And he’s slugging .000 on curves this year… which, if I’m reading right, is not good.
Perhaps Willson is trying to lift more pitches that are breaking away from him and down, as most of the problems come from right-handed sliders. This could be what’s causing a lot of weak fly balls. Or it could be he’s too eager to go the other way. Against right-handed pitching, Contreras’s opposite-field rate is 42.1%, which is astronomical. While Willson has power the other way, that’s not how he’s going to bring the noise. That’s not even bringing home a grunt. Serving out flies to the right fielder is not what we had in mind before the season.
Once Willson finds a way to pull more balls against righties, we should see the chest-bumping, primal-screaming nutcase we’ve come to love.
Lead photo courtesy Patrick Gorski—USA Today Sports