Willson, Can You Still Have Fun?

Dylan Burris covers all of Friday's most interesting hitters.

It’s been a rough year for Willson Contreras. Coming into last night’s game against the crosstown rivals, Contreras had the lowest SLG of his five-year career, a big part of his wRC+ of just 99. One of the best offensive catchers of 2019, the 28-year-old has struggled along with much of the Cubs offense, posting lower walk rates, higher strikeout rates, and low power numbers.

A date with Dylan Cease and the Sox seemed to be just what the doctor ordered, as Contreras smacked an opposite field three-run homer in the third and followed up with a solo shot in the ninth for good measure, finishing with a strong line of 2-3, 2 HR, 3 R, 4 RBI, BB, HBP. The huge game bumped up his slugging 37 points and wRC+ up to a respectable 111. Not bad in a day’s work, eh?

While he still isn’t reaching the offensive heights of last season, there’s still a lot to like about Contreras’ offensive approach. His walk and strikeout rates, while at career lows, are only marginally worse, and when you dig into some of his peripherals, there are some truly encouraging signs.

In particular, he’s doing two things quite well. For one, he’s hitting the ball harder than ever. His Hard Hit % and average exit velocity (admittedly not the most useful of all metrics) are both the highest of his career. Just as importantly, he’s also elevating the ball: check out his launch angle chart from Baseball Savant, which helps illustrate the highest launch angle of his career (supported by his career-best in SwSp%):

Yet despite all this, his Barrel % is only slightly above his career average. There aren’t any huge differences in most of his profile (his BABIP is slightly below his career average), except that his fly ball rate is down while his line drive rate is higher than ever before. It’s a case where I really wish we had a full season of data to look at, since I really think it would normalize over a sample that large. There’s a real argument that he’s had some rotten luck in his 221 PAs, as his xWOBA is actually higher than it was in his successful 2019 season. As we start to consider the 2021 fantasy season, I wouldn’t put too much stock into the <60-game sample of 2020 for Willson. Plus, check out this absolute beauty of a bat flip.

Let’s see how every other hitter did Friday:

Mike Moustakas (2B, CIN) – 2-4, 2 HR, 2 R, 3 RBI. The Reds are clicking just at the right time and a good portion of the credit has to go to Moose, who smacked a pair of homers last night as the Reds clinched a postseason berth with their victory over the Twins. The veteran second baseman is quietly having one of the best offensive campaigns of his career, bolstered by a career-high 11.7% walk rate. He’s settled in at the Great American Ball Park quite nicely and with an up-and-coming lineup around him, he looks like he’ll be an extremely productive player for the next few years of his four-year contract with Cincinnati.
Sam Huff (C, TEX) – 3-4, 2 HR, 2 R, 2 RBI. In our next installment of Catchers Who Rake™, we have another catcher with two homers. The 22-year-old hit second home run of his career in the second inning and followed up by promptly hitting the third home run of his career in the fifth. Since being called up on September 11, Huff is slashing .357/.379/.786 (in large part thanks to last night’s performance) through 29 PAs. The #2 Rangers prospect has certainly impressed in his big league debut, but he’s had big issues with strikeouts and walks throughout his minor league career and those haven’t improved in major league play, with nine strikeouts and one walk over those nine games. It’s hard to get too excited if he isn’t able to make some progress on plate discipline, though the power potential is, let’s say, evident.
Adalberto Mondesi (SS, KC) – 3-3, 2B, 3B, R, RBI, BB, 2 SB. I wrote about Mondesi two weeks ago, noting that he was on an eight-game streak hit streak to bring him above the Mendoza line. The streak only made it to nine, but since that streak started on September 4th, Mondesi has been on fire, slashing .346/.393/.603, good for a whopping 168 wRC+. Even more importantly, he’s been able to swipe 16 bags in that time, bringing him to a stolen base total of 24 through 57 games. His season-long numbers are still rough, but those 24 SB (next highest is Trevor Story at 14) is what you drafted him for. His plate approach still terrifies me, but when he’s able to get on base consistently like this current stretch, he can absolutely stuff the fantasy stat sheet for you.
Trent Grisham (OF, SD) – 2-4, HR, 3 R, 4 RBI. What a season it’s been for Trent Grisham. We knew the 23-year-old has elite speed and would provide valuable defense in the outfield for the Padres, but his 2020 season (above league-average in Hard Hit%, Barrel%, SwSp%, and launch angle) has culminated in an impressive .257/.359/.467 slash line as he’s contributed a solid 125 wRC+ to supplement his defense. While his strikeout rate is above league-average, so is his walk rate, and he shows a lot of potential for the Padres.
Justin Turner (3B, LAD) – 2-3, 2 HR, 2 R, 2 RBI. While he’s struggled with injuries, Turner has been a huge value for anyone who was able to nab him in the late rounds he went at in redraft leagues. The veteran third baseman remains under 200 PAs on the season, but through 40 games he’s been extremely productive when he’s in the lineup for the already-dangerous Dodgers, slashing .310/.402/.469 and chipping in two long balls tonight. Turner has been one of the consistently good hitters in the league since joining Los Angeles in 2014 and shows no signs of slowing down.
Christian Walker (1B, ARI) – 3-9, HR, 3 R, 2 RBI, SB. Walker exploded into the major leagues last year, winning the everyday 1B job after Paul Goldschmidt was traded and impressing just about everybody with his 2019 campaign. In 2020, he’s proving all of his doubters wrong by picking up right where he left off. His 2020 slash line of .276/.338/.471 is nearly identical to last year’s, and he remains in the top 10th percentile of Hard Hit% in the league. While he’s walking less than last year, he’s striking out less, too, and a slight drop in OBP has been offset by an increase in batting average. The Diamondbacks may be in full rebuild but Walker is a solid contributor in a lineup that can only get better.
Travis Shaw (1B/3B, TOR) – 3-4, HR, 2B, R, 2 RBI. While many had written him off, Shaw has quietly settled into his role on the Blue Jays and contributed a respectable 102 wRC+ on the season, buoyed by last night’s strong performance, finishing a triple shy of the cycle. Shaw has struggled to replicate his 2017 and 2018 success with the Brewers, but hitting right behind a scary heart of the Blue Jays’ lineup means he’ll get a decent number of RBI opportunities.
Wilmer Flores (1B/2B/DH, SF) – 3-6, 2 HR, 4 R, 4 RBI. Flores continued his extremely solid first season with the Giants, hitting homers in both games of Friday’s doubleheader. He’s slashed .268/.317/.511 over the course of the season, with a career-best SLG supported by his highest-ever showings in Hard Hit%, launch angle, and, most importantly Barrel%. He still isn’t walking much and his strikeout rate is higher than ever, but he’s capitalizing on pitches nicely and has settled into an important role in the Giants lineup.
Freddy Galvis (SS, CIN) – 3-4, HR, R, 2 RBI. If the Reds can continue to get production like this from the bottom of their lineup, they’re going to be a scary team in October. Galvis has never been an offensive stud but over 45 games, the shortstop has put together his best offensive season yet. Granted, that’s still only good for a 92 wRC+, but he’s striking out less and walking more, and the Reds could do worse.
Ryan McMahon (1B/2B/3B, COL) – 2-6, HR, 2B, 2 R, RBI. It’s been a disappointing season for the Rockies, but there’s still plenty of power in the lineup. While we all know how Colorado treat anyone under the age of 30, McMahon has actually gotten solid playing time this season, starting in most games for the Rox somewhere in the infield. He hits the ball pretty hard, but his strikeout rate is rough, clocking in over 34% on the season. It’s hard to get too excited if he can’t make some serious progress on improving his plate discipline.
Mike Yastrzemski (OF, SF) – 2-3, HR, 2B, R, 2 RBI. After an impressive debut season at the ripe old age of 29, Yaz has only gotten better in his second season in the big leagues. He’s been a huge part of the Giants’ surprising 29-29 record, thanks in part to a solid .285/.387/.565 slash line, good for a 155 wRC+. He’s settled in nicely as a productive offensive player and seems a safe bet to continue his success in 2021.

Photo by Stephen Hopson/Icon Sportswire

Dylan Burris

Dylan has been a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan since 2015. A graduate of the University of North Carolina, he devotes most of his non-baseball attention to college basketball.

One response to “Willson, Can You Still Have Fun?”

  1. Avatar theKraken says:

    Shaw has been trash all year long. Everyone who wrote him off benefited. If anything, Shaw is a pretty nice example of the fallibility of modern metrics. The combination of BB and looks nice on paper works when it comes together but it is not a solid approach or representative of real valuable skill over time. You have to be able to hit too. I will be passing on all of these wRC+ darlings that struggle to hit for average. They have problems in that they have flawed approaches and bad hit tools overwhelmingly. They have to luck into BABIP to have actual value. These types generally do exhibit little consistency from year to year and even less from game to game. They don’t helps their teams at all.

    Would you mind explaining who under 30 isn’t getting a fair shake in COL this year or ever? Tapia is getting the handout of hitting in front of Arenado and Story and still has a bad wRC+. Everyone else has proven yet again that they are utility players. Who could you be referring to? Dahl, Hampson, McMahon, B Rodgers, Hilliard, Tapia… I don’t know of anyone else you could be referring to. There is also the reality that they do give ABs to young players – they just are not the breakouts that people want them to be. Trevor Story and Charlie Blackmon are good examples. Right now Fuentes is getting ABs. I am a prospect guy and I don’t know who you could be referring to. Trust me I get it – you are just parroting what they say at Fangraphs on a daily basis. I’ll explain what you are referring to – it is the COL signing of veterans, which really means Daniel Murphy and Ian Desmond. Matt Kemp hasn’t taken anyone’s ABs this year. Blocking prospects doesn’t actually happen in that org. There are lots of orgs that do block prospects and they actually go on to successful carers in other organizations. I would say that HOU has done this due to just lots of talent. The Dodgers have done similar things. I think the Mariners have one of the worst reputations for not being able to find jobs for quality players such as Ketel Marte, Chris Taylor and Brad Miller. They managed to lose all of them while using all of them to limit their opportunities which was truly impressive! I am sitting here wondering what COL hitting specs got a raw deal.

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