Willson Contreras and his Revamped Approach at the Plate

Last year, Cubs catcher Willson Contreras hit just ten home runs in 544 plate appearances (138 games). Merely 139 plate appearances into 2019, he has already matched his total from 2018. Here’s where Contreras ranks among fellow backstops in the early goings of the 2019 campaign…

  • HR: 10 (2nd in the MLB)
  • RBI: 24 (3rd)
  • AVG: .304 (4th among catchers with at least 80 plate appearances)
  • OBP: .417 (3rd)
  • SLG: .617 (3rd)
  • WAR (according to FanGraphs): 1.5 (tied for 1st with Mitch Garver [MIN] and Robinson Chirinos [HOU])
Photo: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Defensively, Willson Contreras is still a work in progress. While he certainly boasts one of one the best arms in the league (50% caught stealing rate and 86.2 arm according to Baseball Savant [which ranks as the 4th strongest among catchers with at least ten 2B attempts] in 2019), he is 5.2 framing runs below average (per FanGraphs), which is the worst in the majors. By DRS (another FanGraphs metric; stands for Defensive Runs Saved), Contreras is one defensive run above average (+1) in his career behind the plate.

Willson Contreras’ recent power outburst can (most definitely) be attributed to a new approach at the plate. Back in 2017, Contreras impressively slugged twenty-one dingers in only 428 plate appearances. Unfortunately for him, he was unable to sustain this power stroke in 2018, as he hit only ten home runs. As we mentioned earlier, Contreras remarkably has ten home runs this season through just 35 games. It’s worth noting that there’s reason to believe that Cubs new hitting coach Anthony Iapoce has had a big influence on Contreras and his approach at the plate…

Iapoce operates under a similar philosophy to Mallee (2015-2017), stressing an approach designed to create more balls in in the air.

Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times

2018 batted ball profile (according to Baseball Savant)

  • GB%: 53.5
  • LD%: 22.4
  • FB%: 17.9
  • PU%: 6.2


  • GB%: 41.0 (-12.5)
  • LD%: 21.8 (-0.4)
  • FB%: 30.8 (+12.9)
  • PU%: 6.4 (+0.2)

Conteras has clearly been making a conscientious effort to hit more fly balls and boy has it payed off. Unsurprisingly, his average launch angle is up by quite a bit…

Graph courtesy of Baseball Savant

Here’s another way of looking at it…

2018 (Baseball Savant)
2019 (Baseball Savant)
2018 Pre-Pitch Stance (Photo courtesy of Baseball Savant)
2018 Leg Kick (Photo courtesy of Baseball Savant)
2019 Pre-Pitch Stance (Photo courtesy of Baseball Savant)
2019 Leg Kick (Photo courtesy of Baseball Savant)

Contreras is starting his stance in a much more upright position (his hands and bat are in line with his helmet), and his leg kick is a more mellow version of the one he used in 2018. This has presumably allowed him to generate more violent contact…

  • 2018 barrel% (according to Baseball Savant): 7.3
  • 2019: 15.4 (+8.1)

Willson Conteras, with the assistance of newly hired hitting coach Anthony Iapoce, has revamped his swing and approach at the plate, and he is reaping the benefits alright. Expect Contreras to set a new career high in homers and play a huge role in the NL Central divisional race.

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