What We Saw While Chaperoning Willson Contreras and Jon Lester’s First Date
Willson Contreras is “eager to please,” says Jon Lester. So eager, in fact, that in WillCo’s first start catching the Cubs ace, the overzealous catcher might’ve been a little too aggressive in presenting pitches.
Over the course of 123 pitches, Contreras’s framing caused as many as six or seven calls against the Cubs (per StatCorner pitch framing stats). He also helped to influence calls on as many as four pitches outside the zone that were called strikes. A net of three pitches — or 2.44 percent — doesn’t seem like much, but when the starting pitcher thrives on painting the black of the plate like Picasso, it can be the difference in keeping Lester’s pitch count in line.
The lefty particularly likes the low and inside portion of the zone, as illustrated below. One could even say that Lester needs to have a catcher who can proficiently frame borderline pitches. [Obligatory David Ross reference].
But on Opening Night, Contreras wasn’t quite able to perform the touch-up work on those brushstrokes at the edges. Of eight borderline pitches, only two were called strikes (following image: red squares = strike; green squares = ball). Notice Lester’s painterly hammering of that low-outside portion of the zone, as well as those green squares David Ross so eloquently presented as strikes so often in 2016.
Comparing Ross to Contreras using such a small sample for the former isn’t fair, as the Dancing With The Stars competitor made a career off of superb framing abilities. But we’ve already gone too far to turn back now, so let’s compare. Watch the short clip below and pay attention to the stiffness of Ross’s glove (on the right) when framing nearly the same pitch Contreras attempted to pull back Sunday night.
While movement is minimal in the former instance, the current Cubs catcher has an exaggerated “up, down, up, down” motion when catching the pitch. That could be chalked up to adrenaline and a general lack of familiarity, as we saw from his time behind the plate last season that Contreras can be a decent framer. We even saw him snag a pitch by leaping up out of his stance with a bit more gusto than was necessary.
Expect to see Contreras improve his pitch-presenting abilities as the season progresses and he and Lester develop a better rapport and the adrenaline of that first game fades into the comfortable repetition of the season. Who knows, maybe we’ll be able to start letting them go out alone before too long.