What caused Willson Contreras' downturn in production in 2018?

What caused Willson Contreras' downturn in production in 2018?

There was plenty of "Willson Contreras: Future MVP?" discussion during spring training.

Any time a player in his age-25 year season hits 21 home runs with a .276/.356/.499 slash line at a premium defensive position (catcher) despite missing about a month with a hamstring injury (as Contreras did in 2017), the baseball world takes notice. The notion that he might one day garner MVP recognition was nothing to be laughed at.

Through the first few months of 2018, Contreras did much of the same. He had a small drop off in power, but he still had his moments and was solid overall. Over a three-game stretch in the beginning of May, he went 10-for-15 with three doubles, two triples, three home runs and 11 RBIs. He was the first Cubs catcher with five triples before the All-Star break since Gabby Hartnett in 1935. He even started the All-Star Game — and became the second player in MLB history (after Terry Steinbach) to homer in his first career All-Star at-bat after having homered in his first career MLB at-bat (back in 2016).

But instead of cruising along at a performance level about 20 percent better than league average, something happened.

Here are Contreras' Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) numbers from the past three seasons  (100 is league average, any point above or below is equal to a percentage point above or below league average):

Here’s that breakdown in terms of batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage:

But what caused the downturn in production? 

There were some underlying characteristics of his work, particularly a mixture of significantly higher ground-ball rate, lower average exit velocity and bad luck on balls in play which led to the decrease in production.

Also notable is that after the Midsummer Classic, the hits stopped coming on pitches on the outer third. Dividing the strike zone into thirds (this doesn’t include pitches outside the zone), this is what his batting average and slugging percentage looked like:

Granted, it’s not a significant sample, but it’s there.

One non-offensive thing that sticks out is his workload.

*missed 29 games in August and September with hamstring injury

It was the most innings caught by a Cubs receiver since Geovany Soto logged 1,150.1 innings in his Rookie of the Year season in 2008. Three other catchers besides Contreras logged at least 1,000 innings behind the plate in 2018: Jonathan Lucroy, Yasmani Grandal and Yadier Molina. While they combined to fare better prior to the All-Star break, it wasn’t nearly as precipitous a drop as Contreras suffered.

Lucroy, Grandal and Molina combined to slash .255/.322/.416 before the All-Star Game and .239/.317/.405 after it.

That could possibly have a little something to do with it though.

There’s no way to be entirely sure and to what extent each of the things listed above affected Contreras last season. Could it have been something completely different? Could it have been a minor nagging injury? A mental roadblock? Too many constant adjustments throughout the season? The questions remain. A new voice in newly appointed hitting coach Anthony Iapoce might be just what Contreras, who is entering his age-27 season, needs to get back on track and reestablish his spot among the best catchers in the major leagues.

Tom Ricketts addresses media for first time since dad's emails were exposed


Tom Ricketts addresses media for first time since dad's emails were exposed

Cubs chairman and team owner Tom Ricketts addressed the media Monday for the first time since his father's emails were leaked.

“We know he’s not that guy. It’s easy to take some emails and try to paint a picture." Ricketts said. "We know who my father is. We know he’s not the person that some of the articles want to make him to be."

Joe Ricketts had several private emails published by Splinter that contain racially insensitive language, particularly directed towards Muslims. He also forwarded jokes with racial slurs in the punchlines.

Both Tom and Joe released statements shortly after the emails were leaked. The former also said that he apologized to Cubs players in his annual meeting with the team for the distraction. 

“Those aren’t the values my family was raised with," Ricketts said. "I was surprised to see the emails…I’ve never heard my father say anything that was even remotely racist. Just wasn’t our family values. 

“I love him, he’s my dad, he’s a great man.”

Tom Ricketts and the leaders of several Muslim groups (CAIR-Chicago, the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago – CIOGC and the IL Muslim Civic Coalition) met following the publication of Ricketts' emails. In a joint statement Monday, the Cubs and CAIR-Chicago announced steps toward combating Islamophobia, bigotry and racism.

According to a press release, the meeting concluded with a discussion on a proposed plan of action. The plan includes:

The participation of notable Muslims in Cubs and Wrigley Field traditions, anti-hate PSAs featuring Cubs personnel helping to raise public awareness against Islamophobia, as well as Cubs support for three community initiatives: anti-bullying efforts, diversity and inclusion training and scholarships. The details of these and other initiatives, as well as the implementation timeline, will be discussed in subsequent meetings in the coming weeks.

“We are encouraged the Cubs, led by Tom Ricketts, responded swiftly and genuinely in partnering with us to turn the situation around," CAIR-Chicago Executive Director Ahmed Rehab said. 

"As a result, the Cubs are taking a significant step forward and will use the power of their brand and voice to fight Islamophobia, racism and bigotry.

"We hope other franchises follow their lead. This active commitment to our shared values of Everybody In is not only great for the brand, but for all fans, for the affected communities and for our city as a whole.” 

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Ricketts on new Cubs TV network: "Having our own channel is the next step in becoming the best organization in the world"


Ricketts on new Cubs TV network: "Having our own channel is the next step in becoming the best organization in the world"

Cubs owner Tom Ricketts addressed the media this morning, covering a wide-variety of topics, including his father's racist emails, budgetary restrictions, and the Cubs' new TV deal. 

In regards to the deal, Ricketts first talked about the partnership with Sinclair:

Sinclair is going to be a great partner. We've been talking about them for several years. They have a lot of experience in the space. They have a lot of TV stations, they have a lot of experience. It's a strategic iniative that fits well with them and that deal will be a great deal for our fans, and a great deal for the organization. I think it's completely unrelated to what happens on my dad's front and it's completely unrelated to anything that happens on the political front. 

Later on, he was pressed on whether Cubs fans will have to pay more for the new Marquee Network, due in 2020: 

I think there's a lot of misperception in the market. First of all, there is this whole concept of free television - if you get your free channels through cable or through a dish, you're paying for them. Those aren't free. I think people have a misperception there. With respect to having a second channel, it's really about serving the fans. By separating ourselves, we can do right by the organization and we can do right by the fans - and that is putting all the games in one place, which is probably the single biggest complaint I get from people. To put all the games in one place, do all the shoulder programming, the gameday programming the way we want to do it. We have a production team that can go look at players personal lives in depth and bring those players off the page. We can just a lot more. Frankly, it's what the biggest and some other teams in our sport have done, and if there's one thing this organization did historically not well, it's handle the big picture and big problems very well. This is a big thing. Having our own channel is the next step in becomming the best organization in the world. 

You can watch the entire press conference in the embedded tweet below: 

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