The Milwaukee Brewers have a new starting catcher in 2023, and he sure looks good in Brewers gear. The Crew's pitchers and catchers reported to spring training on February 16th, and the 2022 All-Star is getting to work building rapport with his new teammates.
William Contreras was acquired by Milwaukee back on December 12th of 2022, and the move has generated lots of excitement among Brewers fans ever since. When looking at where the Brewers need to improve from last season offensively, Contreras could be the perfect fit for this team. I believe this move will pay massive dividends for the Brewers in 2023.
In this article, I will be analyzing Contreras' excellent 2022 season, looking into what his role will look like in 2023, and seeing where he could look to improve heading into next season.
How did new Brewers catcher Williams Contreras compare to other catchers around the league in his All-Star 2022 season?
If you have read my articles in the past, you know I enjoy looking at a player's peripheral metrics and quality of contact numbers to help provide extra context to better understand offensive performance. Contreras' peripheral stats show that his 2022 campaign was filled with quality at-bats and put him among the top catchers in the league when looking at offensive performance.
According to Baseball Savant, Contreras' wOBA of .370 was in the top 94th percentile of the league last season. Additionally, his barrel rate of 13.4% was in the 91st percentile, and he had an impressive hard hit rate of 46% (for comparison, the league average was 35.8%).
His quality of contact numbers pop off the page and can help illustrate how much damage he can do with the bat. One way we can analyze raw power is by looking at a player's ISO number. Isolated Power, or ISO, measures the raw power of a hitter by taking into account only extra-base hits and the type of extra-base hit.
Contreras had an ISO of .228 last season, which was the second best at the catcher position leaguewide (min 300 PA). He ended the year with a wRC+ of 138 and a slash line of .278/.354/.506. His wRC+ and slugging percentage were both the highest among all catchers in MLB.
Contreras is already one of the better offensive catchers in the league, and he has yet to even play a full season as a primary starting catcher. Last season, he only played 97 games as he split time catching for the Braves, and he still accumulated 20 home runs.
With Contreras becoming the primary catcher for the Brewers in 2023 and projected to be the team's cleanup hitter, he has true 30+ homer upside and immediately slots in as one of the best power bats in their lineup.
In 2022, the Brewers struggled to hit against left-handed pitchers. This is an area Contreras excelled at as one of the best in the league against LHP last year.
The Brewers struggled to hit against left-handed pitchers last season. The table below illustrates the team's offensive performance versus lefties and righties, along with their corresponding rank among all 30 MLB teams.
Brewers RHP/LHP Splits in 2022
The Brewers were great when facing right-handed pitchers in 2022, ranking in the top 10 in MLB in team OPS, wOBA, and wRC+. However, it was a different story when facing lefties where they were in the bottom 10 in MLB in the same three categories. Additionally, the Brewers traded away their most productive hitter against LHP from last season in Hunter Renfroe.
In 2022, Renfroe led the Brewers in OPS (.842), wOBA (.361) and wRC+ (134) against left-handed pitchers. For a team that already struggled against LHP, losing their best batter against lefties yields a much needed hole to fill. With that being said, Milwaukee did an excellent job of addressing that need by going out and getting one of the best hitters in the game against left-handed pitchers.
Contreras excelled against LHP in 2022. He ranked 9th in the entire league with a wRC+ of 187 against lefties (minimum 70 plate appearances). Additionally, he had an OPS of 1.036 and a wOBA of .442 against lefties, both ranking 8th in all of MLB across all positions.
There is no denying Contreras should have an immediate impact on this Brewers lineup. He demonstrates pop against both lefties and righties and should help address an area of improvement from the 2022 Brewers team. That said, there are still areas where Contreras can look to improve heading into next season.
Where could William Contreras look to improve heading into the 2023 season?
Milwaukee had their fair share of issues when it came to strikeouts last season. As a team, the Brewers had the 8th highest strikeout rate in the league at 23.9%. This also happens to be the area where Contreras struggles the most at the plate.
Contreras could look to improve is his bat-to-ball numbers. In 2022, he ranked in the 6th percentile in whiff rate (34.3%) and in the 13th percentile in strikeout rate (27.7%). While Contreras doesn't even have a full season worth of games played in his young career (153), it is still concerning to see his career strikeout rate sitting at 28.4%.
It is worth noting that he does display good plate discipline, posting an above average walk rate in 2022, and doesn't chase many pitches outside the zone. Since coming into the big leagues in 2020, he has improved these numbers with each season he has played. This will be Contreras' first full season as a starting catcher, so perhaps the consistency of being an everyday catcher can translate to more consistency at the plate.
The other big area in which Contreras will look to improve his game is behind the plate, as he is not a great defensive catcher. He was below average in both pop time to second base and pitch framing in 2022 and had a defensive runs above average (DEF) rating of -3 according to FanGraphs' data.
With the size of the MLB bases increasing from 15 inches to 18 inches this upcoming season, it will be intriguing to see how this impacts catchers leaguewide behind the plate, specifically when looking at throwing runners out on the base paths.
The good news is Milwaukee has an excellent staff to help develop this area for Contreras. Catching Instructor Charlie Greene and company have done wonders in the past. Their latest work can be seen in turning former Brewers catcher Omar Narvaez from a subpar defensive catcher prior to his years in Milwaukee to an above average catcher behind the plate in his three-year tenure with the Crew.
Just three seasons into Contreras' young MLB career, he has shown he can be one of the best offensive catchers in the majors. While there is room for improvement when looking at strikeout numbers and performance behind the plate, he helps address issues the Brewers had offensively a season ago.
Contreras immediately slides into being one of the best, if not the best, power hitter in the Brewers' lineup. At the age of 25, he could have a bright future ahead of him as Milwaukee's starting catcher of the future.