July was a strong month for the Chicago Cubs, specifically after the All-Star Break.
The club put together a 16-8 record in the month, going 13-3 after the midsummer classic. While many factors had to come together for this run, Willson Contreras’ surge may be the single most important aspect of it.
Contreras has been a contributor since his first day with the big league club hitting a big home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates in his first ever at bat.
This past month, however, was by far his best on the North Side.
Contreras assembled a .321/.400/.619 slash line in July, an impressive line for any player, especially one with just over one season’s worth of games under his belt.
His seven home runs also stand out, considering how much the Cubs have relied on the long ball for run production this season.
Kris Bryant on Willson Contreras
"He's one of the best catchers in the game, if not the best."
And he's exactly right
— Frederic (@DOM_Frederic) July 25, 2017
When you dig into some of the more advanced numbers, however, his month becomes even more impressive.
Contreras’ isolated power (ISO), which aims to tell how many extra bases a player gets per at bat, was .298 in July, which ranks among some of the game’s best power hitters (Fangraphs considers a .250 ISO “excellent,” while .298 over the course of the season would be good enough for sixth best in the majors this year).
His wRC+, which compares a player’s total offensive production against the league average, was 161 for the month. That’s far above the league average (normalized to 100 every season) and further exemplifies just how much he did to contribute to the Cubs’ offense in terms of run production and outcomes of at bats.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon said of Willson Contreras: "You got to consider him one of the elite catchers in the National League already."
— Chris Emma (@CEmma670) July 24, 2017
This year hasn’t just been composed of a one-hit wonder and three other months of mediocrity for Contreras. Since being called up to the majors last season, he’s established himself as one of the best catchers in baseball, let alone just the National League, in both phases of the game.
Among that same qualifying group, he’s second in home runs and RBIs, fourth in ISO, eighth in wRC+ and 10th in on-base percentage.
In laymen’s terms, he’s been very good at the plate.
Defensively, he has provided plenty of value to the team as well. He has the second-best Def rating per Fangraphs this season, while also using his arm to throw down base runners at an impressive clip (depending on source, he has either five or six runners picked off this season, which is either tied for first or alone in second in the majors).
With a pitching staff that has struggled to hold runners at times, having a catcher with a cannon for an arm is an invaluable asset.
Batting in the vaunted cleanup spot, often immediately following the Bryzzo combination, the young catcher has a .999 OPS so far this season. He’s taken the top half of the Cubs lineup from a dynamic duo to a terrifying trio.
There’s no guarantee Contreras can continue his July dominance the rest of the way, but even consistency with his season averages down the stretch will provide plenty of offensive and defensive value to the Cubs.
On a team which has encountered several bumps in the road throughout the season before hitting this latest hot streak, his contributions can’t be overstated.