Willson Contreras And The Cardinal Catching Conundrum


Does Willson Contreras bring the Cardinals value as a designated hitter?

And why did they promote Tres Barrera over Ivan Herrera?

When the Cardinals signed Willson Contreras, no one imagined that he’d be out of the catchers role by mid-March; I think I said 3 years down the line when they signed him. The point of signing Contreras was to add some offense to the catcher position, something Yadier Molina hadn’t provided in some time.

Since the team was welcoming a new catcher for the first time since 2005, you’d have to expect some hiccups. Contreras was going to need time to learn the pitchers; it’s something we’ve taken for granted for the last decade plus. But blaming all the pitching issues on Contreras is flat out wrong.

Something to focus on with this is Contreras the DH doesn’t bring as much value to the team as Contreras the catcher.

Contreras is slashing .266/.345/.391 with 2 homers, 17 runs, and 17 driven in; he’s worth a 0.6 WAR and 108 wRC+. He’s also sporting a .333 BABIP and .125 ISO.

As a catcher, here’s where he ranks against qualified catchers

Avg.266.333 (Elias Diaz, COL)8th
OBP.345.428 (Sean Murphy, ATL)7th
SLG.391.613 (Murphy)11th
HR29 (Murphy)13th
R1722 (Murphy)6th
RBI1732 (Murphy)t7th
WAR0.62.3 (Murphy)t7th
wRC+108178 (Murphy)8th
BABIP.333.390 (Diaz)5th
ISO.125.324 (Murphy)12th

Outside of power stats, Contreras is doing pretty well. As with the top of the list and Murphy and Diaz, there are a lot of the same names ahead of Contreras, including Adley Rutschman, Salvador Perez, and his brother William Contreras.

Side note, the best catcher in baseball could have been a Cardinal if they would have parted with Lars Nootbaar, Brendan Donovan, and a power pitching prospect like Gordon Graceffo.

This list changes when you compare his numbers to other DHs.

Avg.266.317 (Brent Rooker, OAK)12th
OBP.345.430 (Rooker)13th
SLG.391.654 (Rooker)18th
HR210 (Rooker)22th
R1722 (4 players)13th
RBI1734 (Yordan Alvarez, HOU)14th
WAR0.61.6 (Rooker)10th
wRC+108199 (Rooker)15th
BABIP.333.361 (Tyler Stephenson, CIN)7th
ISO.125.337 (Rooker)18th

Contreras goes from a top 10 catcher to a top 15 DH. In most cases, he’s not even the best DH on his team:


The Cardinals are better team with Contreras catching and Nolan Gorman at DH than they are with Contreras at DH and Andrew Knizner catching. As we saw Wednesday night, the pitching isn’t instantly improved with Knizner at catcher, even if they know him better; starter Jordan Montgomery went 5 innings, giving up 6 runs on 7 hits and 3 walks while only striking out 3.

The Cardinals need to decide if the difference between Knizner’s bat/defense combo is better than the impact of Gorman at DH and Contreras catching. The alternative is sacrificing defense in the field with Gorman at second; then you are sitting 2 of Tommy Edman, Donovan, and the hot Paul DeJong. This becomes an issue when the groundball pitching staff (45.5% of balls in play are groundballs, which is tied for 4th in the MLB); the defense has been an area that’s excelled the last few years, so they shouldn’t sacrifice there.

The best thing for the Cardinals would have Contreras catch, Gorman DH, and Edman play second. With Contreras behind the plate, he gets the opportunity to build a relationship with the pitchers. Remember, he’s the guy who skipped the World Baseball Classic to work with the pitchers; 7 pitchers left camp to play for their country and miss the opportunity to work with him.

The next catching question is why did they promote Tres Barrera over Ivan Herrera? Barrera has a .231/.317/.315 slash line in 162 plate appearance in the MLB. Herrera has a .111/.190/.111 slash line in 22 plate appearances. Let’s compare there Memphis stats from this year:


Barrera is hitting better, but it looks like Herrera was getting most of the starts in Memphis, so they want him to get consistent at bats there. They are OK with Barrera sitting the bench, be it in Memphis or St. Louis. So rather than having Herrera back up Knizner, they’ll keep Barrera in the same role at the high level. Hopefully Herrera can continue to develop his bat so he’ll be worth something at the trade deadline (or soon if a team will want him in a package for a good pitcher).

From all reports, the Cardinals don’t have faith in Herrera; they also haven’t given him much of a shot at the MLB level. This would also explain the 5 year deal to Contreras.

The Cardinals have historically held on to catching prospects too long, which has made them stagnate at Memphis. The exception was Carson Kelly, who they dealt for Paul Goldschmidt. Bryan Anderson, Tony Cruz, Steve Bean, Cody Stanley, and Jeremy Martinez have all spent time in the system and none hit their expectations because they stalled out in the minors.

The Cardinals need to figure this out as quick as possible; they’ve already squandered too many games this season and need the best lineup to get back on track. Although good pitching would help too.

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