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The Quest for an .800 OPS Hitter Part Three - William Contreras


jakedood

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Welcome back for part three of the series! This time around, let's take a quick dive into William Contreras, his historical hitting, and how he has the potential to be a premier hitter for the Brewers.

The blockbuster trade to acquire Contreras has undoubtedly been the Brewers' biggest move this off-season due to his All-Star production at the plate of .278/.354/.506 and the Brewers' recent history of markedly developing their catchers' defensive capabilities, particularly their receiving skills. However, Contreras hasn't always looked like the power bat he is today, taking six years to get past High A ball, and his power not really showing up between 2015-2020, with ISO numbers below .100 in three of those seven seasons. However, looking at his history in the minors, he had a relatively consistent strikeout percentage, capping out at 21.3% in 2019 but regularly in the 17-21% range. After getting his first taste of the majors the following year, his power numbers spiked, recording ISO's of .228 in 2021 AAA, .184 in 2021 MLB, and .228 in 2022 MLB, a huge increase that also coincided with an increased strikeout rate and walk rate, while also producing a much better batting average. The Braves reportedly worked very hard on simplifying his swing to allow his raw power ability to manifest, and in 2021 the organization was split on which of Langeliers and Contreras was the better prospect.

Contreras ranked in the bottom 6% of the league last year in Whiff Rate yet was in the 90th percentile for batting average and expected slugging, suggesting that although he may swing and miss a lot when he gets his pitch, he makes the most of it. His heat map indicates he can swing a little too much at balls just above the strike zone but doesn't chase a ton elsewhere, with a chase rate in the 54th percentile last year, and his favorite pitch by far is the sinker, which he took for a plus eight-run differential last year in 299 AB's. He hits most pitches well but struggles a little more with the slider, according to the run differentials. He faced more sliders than any other pitch last year (413) with a .191 Average and .266 Slugging, whereas for all other meaningful pitches he faced, he had a BA/Slugging of: 

Sinker - .358/.672

4 Seamer - .301/.614

Curveball - .306/.444

Changeup - .292/.583

Cutter - .292/.687

From this, it's pretty straightforward that if he can find a way to identify better and track the slider, we could see a marked improvement in even last year's prolific performance at the plate. 

While he appears like a slugger who can't hit for average due to his underlying whiff rate, pitches up in the zone being swung on and missed, and his strikeout rate, he can barrel the ball regularly to all fields (his spray chart is spread very evenly). This should give him a high floor regarding his on-base percentage, particularly given he has consistently developed as a hitter over the last three seasons, improving his power output, batting average, and maintaining steady walk rates. 

Reviewing the comparisons in his StatCast numbers from 2021 vs. 2022 (and he did outperform these slightly in 2022), some notable differences include:

- His Hard Hit rate, Barrel rate, and Sweet Spot % all jumped 2-3%

- His xSLG jumped from .419 in 2021 to .479 in 2022

- His WOBA jumped by 0.67 points

- He dropped his SO and Whiff % by ~ 2%

Contreras is a slightly streaky hitter and is tough to project given his minor league changes, but last season was his first full season in the majors. If he comes anywhere close to replicating his 2022 season, then the Brewers will be markedly better, particularly given the offensive weakness the catching corps had last year. As with Jesse Winker, the Brewers can hopefully get a few more games out of him than last year, with regular catching and DH roles, although most projection systems have him down for less than 120 games. 

With his hitting ability against most pitches, especially fastballs, and the power in his bat, it's no stretch of the imagination to find Contreras hitting comfortably above the .800 OPS mark.

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