Cubs 2020 roster outlook: Willson Contreras' health is critical to team's success


Each day in March, NBC Sports Chicago is previewing one player from the Cubs’ expected 2020 Opening Day roster. Next up is catcher Willson Contreras.

2019 recap

Contreras became the first Cubs catcher to start back-to-back All-Star games since Gabby Hartnett (1936-37). The 27-year-old hit .272/.355/.533, posting career-highs in home runs (24), wRC+ (127) and ISO (.261).

For the second straight season, Contreras’ offensive production declined post-All-Star break. However, he missed most of August with a right hamstring strain, perhaps an explanation. (Last March, he admitted he came out of his routine and became complacent in 2018.)

2018 first half: 82 games, .279/.369/.449, 7 home runs, 34 RBIs, 123 wRC+
2018 second half: 56 games, .200/.291/.294, 3 home runs, 20 RBIs, 62 wRC+

2019 first half: 77 games, .286/.381/.556, 18 home runs, 52 RBIs, 140 wRC+
2019 second half: 28 games, .238/.280/.475, 6 home runs, 12 RBIs, 91 wRC+

Expectations for this season’s role

Contreras is the unquestioned starting catcher and Jon Lester’s personal backstop. Victor Caratini proved capable of handling a bigger workload last season. He’ll receive a fair share of starts to spell Contreras’ legs and keep him fresh all season.

Offensively, Contreras profiles as the Cubs’ No. 5 hitter — behind Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javy Báez and Kyle Schwarber. Good luck, opposing pitchers…

2020 outlook

Contreras is one of the best offensive catchers in baseball. Behind the plate, he’s a talented blocker with a cannon for an arm. Although he’s been knocked for pitch framing skills, he’s improved the past two seasons.

Baseball Prospectus’ Framing Runs Above Average (FRAA) metric quantifies how many runs a catcher saves with framing. Contreras was worth -7.7 runs, up from -15.4 in 2018. The Cubs expect him to improve in this area after he found a technique that worked for him at the end of 2019.

As he continues progressing as a framer, health is the biggest inhibitor to Contreras' success. He also strained his right hamstring in 2017 and was surprised to do last season after training hard to prevent the injury's recurrence.

When the Cubs are at their best, Contreras is behind the plate. His health is critical to them reclaiming a spot in the postseason.

The complete roster outlook series:

1. Cubs hoping Kris Bryant stabilizes leadoff spot in 2020
2. Kyle Hendricks is a steady force in the Cubs' rotation
3. Kyle Schwarber is primed for a breakout 2020 season
4. Tyler Chatwood has chance to rewrite the script in 2020
5. David Bote searching for more offensive consistency in 2020
6. One pitch could hold key to Jose Quintana's 2020 success
7. Albert Almora Jr. looking to rebound behind new swing, refreshed mental state
8. Cubs counting on bounce back season from Craig Kimbrel
9. Javier Báez is indispensable, and the best is yet to come
10. New pitch key to Rowan Wick staving off regression
11. New MLB rule gives Victor Caratini chance for bigger role
12. Daniel Descalso can only improve from last season
13. Ian Happ poised to claim starting center field job
14. Jeremy Jeffress can bounce back in Chicago
15. Lineup adjustment could be key to Jason Heyward's success
16. Anthony Rizzo remains an all-around rock for Chicago
17. Kyle Ryan's versatility key in uncertain bullpen
18. Now is not the time to write off Jon Lester 

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