How Contreras’ Work Is Paying Off For Cubs Pitching

Two years ago I made a post for Renegade Sports Analytics on Willson Contreras’ poor framing ability. His framing was costing his pitchers more runs than any other catcher in baseball. The Cubs and Contreras became aware of this and have been working on improving his framing over the last few years and it seems to be paying off.

Below is the five catchers with the biggest difference in catcher strike rate from 2018 to 2020. (Catcher strike rate is defined as Percentage of non-swings on the edges of the zone converted into called strikes.

Contreras has the second biggest change from 2018 to 2020 and is currently 3rd in the MLB in strike rate for the 2020 season! After a steady increase in 2019 (46.3% to 48.5%), Contreras has taken a huge jump thus far in 2020 (54.3%). His catching and framing ability is just another reason for the Cubs pitching staff’s successful start to 2020.

The chart below shows all MLB catchers with more than 1 run from extra strikes in 2020. Runs Extra Strikes converts strikes to runs saved on a .125 run/strike basis.

Contreras is one of three catchers that have currently saved more than one run for his pitching staff. What a great turnaround from a 2018 season where he cost his pitchers 10 runs and 2019 where he made an improvement to only costing his pitchers four runs.

He’s stealing more strikes for his pitchers, but let’s see where he’s stealing these strikes. With the data and chart below (from BaseballSavant) we can see each area around the strike-zone and the percentage of strikes Contreras has stolen over the past few years. The darker red a zone is, the higher above league-average it is and the darker blue it is, the lower below league-average it is.

He’s improved his receiving everywhere, but most notably at the top and bottom of the zone (zone 12 and zone 18). Those increases in borderline strikes might not seem huge, but with a pitching staff with guys who rely on pitch location more like Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks, Alec Mills and Jose Quintana, a few more strikes can be huge.

Yes, I know 2020 hasn’t been a very long season, but this jump is encouraging, especially after his improvement in 2019. Contreras has put in a lot of work on his receiving and having David Ross as a manager can only help his improvement even more. I’m excited to see his hard work paying off already and hope he continues to keep this up.

Published by Will McClaughry

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

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