What happened to Willson Contreras in 2018?

One of the biggest baseball fantasy disappointment in 2018 was Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras. He just finished two solid seasons at Wrigley Field, and the expectations were high. With only 10 homeruns and a batting average of .249, both career worst, fantasy players lost their patience and will look elsewhere for the 2019 season. But what really happened in 2018?

The catcher position in fantasy baseball has been a problem for some years now. Everyone looks for the young rookie who will change our perception but so far, the options are very limited. Willson Contreras was supposed to be one of the few at the position who was going to make solid production both in runs, home runs and average.

2018 a disappointing season

In 2018 Contreras was the clear number one choice for the Cubs, and he was also able to play in the outfield if necessary. His team, the Chicago Cubs, was supposed to be a power house and with Contreras hitting in the heart of the lineup, what could go wrong? Because of the thin talent level at the catcher position, Contreras average draft position was inflated even more. New York Yankees Gary Sanchez was considered the consensus number one, but behind him Contreras was drafted in the top three in most formats. The year started off bad, and to be honest, finished poor as well. There were not many bright spots, and owners who kept him on the roster all year did only do it because the options were limited.

Contreras set career high in games played in 2018 with 138. It was 21 more compared to the year before. More disappointing was career lows in HR 10, BA .249, SLG .390, OBP .339, OPS .730, OPS+ 92 and SO 121. This is of course only offensive production, but in fantasy baseball defensive stats for a catcher do not matter. In real life it is something we need to consider when we evaluate a player, but fantasy baseball is not real life. In 2016 during his rookie campaign Contreras played his way to a regular role, on the Cubs. His production was surprisingly good with 12 home runs in 76 games and a batting average of .282. He was so good the Cubs selected to use him in the outfield when he needed a break from the catcher job.

2016 76 33 12 .282 .488 .357 2
2017 117 50 21 .276 .499 .356 5
2018 138 50 10 .249 .390 .339 4


What do the advanced stats tell us?

If we study the more advanced stats what really stood out in 2018? First of all BABIP in 2018 was the lowest in his career, but not that far from the year before. His rookie season in 2016 has the smallest sample size, which could play a role in the variance.

2016 .339
2017 .319
2018 .313


Soft contact was a career high in 2018, and hard contact was a career low. The combination in the same year, is of course something which will hurt your chances to get the results you want. Soft contact was 22.4 % in 2018, compared to 17,7 % and 17,0 % the two years before. On the other side hard contact was only 28.9 %, compared to 32.3 % and 35.5 %. This can perhaps explain the very poor HR/FB in 2018 of only 9.3 %, which was way down from the year before at 25.9 %. The lack of hard hit balls, really killed his chances to pile up some decent home run numbers at Wrigley Field. The league average of HR/FB in 2018 was 12.7 %, so Contreras was well below league average in 2018.

The plate discipline stats look a bit different. He was at a career high in swings inside the zone with contact at 81.6 % compared to 78.5 % and 76.6 % the years before. Swings at pitches outside the zone were compared to the same as in his rookie campaign.

What can we expect in 2019?

When we make predictions about Willson Contreras and his fantasy value, we really want to know if the rookie version or the 2018 version will show up. The difference is remarkable, but then again this is only the fantasy player we are talking about. Because the catcher position has such poor depth even another bad year from Contreras will still make him fantasy relevant.

With a career FB% of 29.6% and GB% of 53.0 % we can not make any kind of predictions we will see the 2016 version of Contreras. The numbers simply do not add up. The LD% has been consistent during his time with the Cubs, so expecting a rise is not in our predictions. With hard contact going down it will be tough to get over 25 home runs, which really was the expectations before last season. A projection close to 15-20 home runs, 50-65 runs, 55-65 RBI (only reason we mention RBI is because it is standard in many fantasy formats) and a batting average of .257 – .267. He still hits in a very potent Cubs lineup, at a reasonably good hitters ballpark and you have to decide where these numbers will fit in at your draft. Is he still relevant I fantasy? Absolutely! Is he a top 3 catcher in 2019? Probably not.

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