The St. Louis Cardinals made a splash last week in signing former Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras. It was long rumored that the Cardinals were simply going to make some smaller moves this offseason and head into next season with largely the same team. However, signing the 3 time All Star catcher was anything but a small move as he was one of the best hitters on the free agent market. Contreras is brought in to replace franchise icon Yadier Molina, although his impact will go beyond that as he brings an impact third bat that the Cardinals did not have last season.
What does Contreras bring to the table?
Contreras is a hitter who excels at impacting the baseball. His average exit velocity of 90.4 MPH was in the 76th percentile last season and his hard-hit percentage of 48.6 percent fell into the 90th percentile. Had Contreras posted those two numbers as a Cardinal last season they would rank fourth and first respectively amongst Cards hitters with 300 or more plate appearances. Additionally, last season Contreras posted an xWOBA of .364 which ranked in the 94th percentile last season. Importantly as well Contreras draws walks at an above average clip as his walk rate of 9.1 percent ranked in the 63rd percentile in the MLB in 2022. On top of that Contreras immediately walks in the door as one of the Cardinals best power hitters. His xSLG of .463 would rank fourth on the team last year only trailing Pujols, Arenado and Goldschmidt, with Pujols no longer being on the team.
In terms of plate discipline, Contreras is a below average hitter. His chase rate of 31.8 percent fell into the 30th percentile and his strikeout percentage of 21.1 percent, which is his career best rate, ranked in the 49th percentile.
Contreras is an above average athlete compared to most catchers as his sprint speed of 27.6 ft/s fell into the 56th percentile.
Behind the dish Contreras is serviceable. His catcher framing runs of 0 in 2022 was tied for 29th amongst 60 qualified catchers and his strike rate of 46% ranked 44th. It should be noted that whilst a catcher does play a role in framing a large part is also on the pitching staff and the Cubs have not had a good one in a while which does the new Cardinals catcher few favors. In terms of controlling the running game, like former Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, he is one of the best. His pop time of 1.93 seconds is tied for 11th out of 85 catchers with at least 5 throws to second and his arm strength of 86 MPH is also tied for 11th.
The Cardinals needed to make an impact move this offseason. It is not known how many high-end seasons Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado have left in them, so they had to go for it now. Bringing in Contreras strengths what was already a good lineup, and it gives them in my opinion the best team in the NL Central. I think this is a great signing for St. Louis, especially at the price in which they got him.