Why Willson Contreras Is a Massive Breakout Candidate

The Cubs are rolling right now and there’s a bunch of guys who I could write about for getting off to great starts, but Willson Contreras has some really eye-popping numbers.

Below are the Top 5 hitters in the MLB in average exit velocity this season.

Contreras is second in the MLB with a 96.5 mph average exit velocity! He also has the highest max exit velocity of any of these top five at 114.1 mph and the only player hitting balls harder consistently is Fernando Tatis Jr. Contreras is barreling up a lot of balls too, again only behind Fernando Tatis Jr. (who is absolutely raking over in San Diego).

Contreras does only have two home runs on the season thus far, so many might not think of him having a great season. But as hard as he’s hitting balls you would think he’d have more. If we look at his average launch angle we can see why he doesn’t; it’s down there at only 6.4 degrees. If that were to increase and Willson were to get more balls in the air, he would be absolutely mashing.

His current average exit velocity of 96.5 mph is a big jump from his 88.5 mph average exit velocity last season, which suggests some sort of change or improvement made to tap into this power.

The chart below shows the Cubs for 2020, sorted by sweet spot % (hitting it off the sweet spot- defined as a batted-ball event with a launch angle between eight and 32 degrees).

A lot Contreras’ batted balls are on the lower end of that launch angle included in the sweet spot, but he does still lead the Cubs by a large margin. We also see that he is absolutely crushing his ground balls (with an average exit velo of 94.3 mph on ground balls alone! (That’s sixth highest in the MLB).

Contreras is hitting .350 against breaking stuff and .280 against fastballs this season, but expected statistics think he should actually have a higher batting average against fastballs than curveballs. Both expected averages are over .300, (fastballs: .336, breaking: .313) meaning that Contreras has really been making solid contact with both fastballs and breaking stuff. With Contreras making the most solid contact and having the highest average exit velocity of any Cub, he’s a great candidate to breakout big-time. The only thing that’s holding him back is that high groundball rate that comes from his low launch angle numbers.

Let’s also give a quick shoutout to Jason Heyward here, who was great in the Cleveland series (Six RBI in the two games) and is second behind only Contreras on the Sweet Spot list. What this list shows is why the Cubs have been so successful so far at the plate this year. It’s when those guys closer to the bottom of the lineup contribute, that the lineup becomes devastating to opponent pitching. When guys like Heyward and Happ are crushing it and someone like Willson Contreras is leading the charge, the entire lineup becomes dangerous!

Published by Will McClaughry

Sports fan, data enthusiast and former division 3 college basketball player

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