Willson Contreras Likely to Land on DL: Now What?

The Cubs lost a series against a bad team on the road. The NL Central has tightened into a crazy race which Myles wrote about yesterday. The series loss has affected the Cubs chances of making the postseason in a direct way. Baseball Prospectus had the Cubs odds of making the postseason at 74.4% and FanGraphs has the Cubs odds at 88.1% before the loss to Madison Bumgarner. Those marks are 3.8% and 3.4% lower respectively following the Cubs loss with Jose Quintana on the mound Tuesday. The Cardinals continue to win and have pulled into a tie with the Milwaukee Brewers. The Cubs playoff odds will certainly decrease again today, but the potential loss of Willson Contreras is of far greater concern long term.

Willson Contreras left the game yesterday with a leg injury. Myles recap conveyed the immediate reaction well, and Cubs beats reporters have presented the same general update on the situation. Contreras will head to Arizona to have an MRI done on Thursday. The results will be reported Friday, and the Cubs will make a decision on the roster at that point. It seems all but assured that Willson will head to the 10 day DL with Victor Caratini returning to the Cubs 25 man roster a few weeks earlier than expected. It is hard to know exactly what the damage is at this point, but it certainly looked like a hamstring issue when it happened. There is so little information available that a minimum stay of 10 days isn't out of the question, but the odds seem far greater that he will miss significant time. It isn't hyperbolic to suggest that his splendid sophomore campaign might be over.

The absence of Willson Contreras will put a serious strain on the Cubs chances of winning the division. The question is how much of a strain. The Cubs have to face the dangerous Diamondbacks in Arizona next, but the schedule becomes a lot easier afterwards as the Cubs face last place teams for 13 straight games. The Cubs have an opportunity there for an extended winning streak in the latter half of August before the also surging Pittsburgh Pirates come to Wrigley at the end the month. The Cubs play the teams chasing them for the division crown in 21 of the remaining 33 games to finish the season.

The slim chance that Willson Contreras only needs a minimum stay on the 10 day DL would have him eligible for the August 20th game against Toronto. He would have missed 9 of the remaining 49 games. That seems extremely optimistic given the early impressions. Contreras would have to be ready in 17 days to be back for the start of the division heavy final push of the season. A 4 week absence would mean the Cubs face the Pirates the final 7 times without their team MVP. 5 weeks would have Willson ready for the first of the final 7 games against the Cardinals. 6 weeks would have him ready at the start of the final 8 games at Milwaukee and then St. Louis. 7 weeks would bring Contreras back for the final games against Cincinnati. Any more than 2 months and the best we can hope for is setting up a Schwarber like return in the postseason.

The Cubs acquisition of Alex Avila looms even larger with these events. The Cubs have a credible catcher to play everyday, but there is going to be a dropoff between the red hot Contreras and the veteran Avila. Alex Avila is in the middle of his best offensive season since he was a 24 year old kid in 2011. His wOBA and TAv are stellar this season. Avila (.373) ranks only behind Buster Posey (.379) in wOBA among catchers with at least 250 PAs this season. Contreras ranks fourth with a .363 wOBA. Avila's TAv of .293 ranks only fifth among catchers with 250 PAs. Contreras is third with a .305. The season totals suggest that the Cubs shouldn't miss much in the batter's box with Avila becoming the primary catcher.

The issue is that Avila is unlikely to continue at this high level of production. Baseball Prospectus projects Avila to have 39 more PAs with a .254 TAv. The number of plate appearances is certainly going to go up, but there is little reason for Avila's expected production to go up with the increased playing time. Avila's offensive numbers have been trending steadily downward since a red hot start to the season. It also doesn't appear to be a matter of poor luck. The amount of hard contact Avila has been making has been following his wOBA production consistently throughout the season. The chart below shows the two lines, and it doesn't paint an encouraging picture for the remaining couple of months.
avila-woba-hard-percentage

Willson Contreras was unlikely to continue on the .330/.394/.696 tear he had been on since July 1. That level of production isn't a fair expectation. Contreras was projected to have a TAv of .284 in his remaining plate appearances. He might have outperformed those numbers given the kind of contact he has been generating, but even his projected level of production would represent a substantial increase over what Avila can be expected to produce.

Offensive production is only part of the value a catcher provides a team. Contreras is a raw but extremely athletic receiver. The Cubs are going to experience a significant downgrade in this area. Avila ranks below Contreras in every defensive metric Baseball Prospectus has for catchers except throwing runs strangely enough, but Contreras arm will be sorely missed  when Jon Lester is on the mound. It will be interesting to see if teams are more willing to run without an elite arm behind the plate protecting Lester. The Cubs increased reliance on pitching and defense with this blow to the lineup will make that an important storyline to follow.

It is unknown how long Willson Contreras is going to be gone. The worst case scenario would be Willson missing the rest of the season. A reasonable estimate of the value lost based on the projections at Baseball Prospectus would be about 1 win. It could be greater if Avila craters even more than expected. The numbers suggests that the Cubs playoff hopes shouldn't be too dented with an Avila-Caratini pairing behind the plate. The margin between the Cubs and Cardinals (and the rest of the NL Central) becomes a lot thinner, but the numbers point to the Cubs still having a strong chance to repeat as division champs.

Not everything can be measured of course. Willson Contreras means a lot to this team for his energy. Maddon referred to Contreras as being like oxygen with his arrival in 2016. The presence he has brought to the middle of the order is more than just the numbers. We also know that positive offensive production can amplify the production of others as negative offensive production has the inverse effect. There could be a hangover effect that isn't captured in the numbers as the Cubs adjust to life without Willson.

The final conclusion has to be that losing Willson Contreras for the season would be a major blow. In the short series of the postseason the effect would magnified as the rosters are "shortened". Getting there would be more challenging but certainly possible given the roster and remaining schedule. Hopefully, the scenario the Cubs find themselves in on Friday is a lot rosier than that.

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  • fb_avatar

    Expect Avila to step up, and look for the FO to acquire a veteran back-up.

  • Outside of a SP, was there anyone we could less afford to lose? The drop-off will be dramatic. As a PSA, might I suggest the die hard optimists may want to start managing expectations, for the benefit of your own sanity. 2018 will be here before you know it!

  • In reply to Stubbs:

    I'm sure I'd be considered part of that die-hard optimists group. I am looking forward to a tremendous 2018 season. But there is still a lot of 2017 left.

    Go Cubs!

  • In reply to BarleyPop:

    Theo was saying on the score today. Which position are we most vulnerable at? Unanimously it was catcher.

    So going and getting Avila with Wilson sure looks genius now.

  • In reply to bleachercreature:

    Avila yes!! Wilson ......................yeah, not so much.

  • In reply to Stubbs:

    Do I feel less optimistic than yesterday? Sure, but I've seen too much happen in this game to throw in the mentally as you suggest. If they don't make the playoffs I will be disappointed, I won't be angry, and I'll look forward to 2018. If they do, and the odds still favor that even if diminished, then I'll manage my expectations in the playoffs from there. The big picture is always the key thing for me and 2018 looks bright as does 2019. We have a front office that knows how to make moves and I trust them to tweak what hasn't worked. We've had two glorious years with a World Series win and baseball is a beautiful thing in all it's it's messed up wonder. I don't have to manage expectations, I did that before the season started.

  • Projections do not mean squat. If projections determined the outcome, the Cubs would have a 12 game lead in the division. There is no reason why Avila cannot keep his fine season going with the only evidence against being "he hasn't been this good for a long time".

    This is time for others to step up. Enough excuses. Javy--make the routine plays, Bullpen -- quit giving up runs, Hitters -- work your plan. Play solid clean event-free baseball and the Cubs win the division by 5 games.

  • Rizzo would still be the one person that we could ill afford to lose IMO.

    And, you can go ahead and manage your expectations, but no need to tell others how to view the team or it's chances. Good players step up at times like these. Time for KB to start hitting with men on. Time for Schwarber to go ballistic. Addy come back on fire.

    As far as a backup , as far as I know, nobody has picked up Eric Fryer yest after he was DFA'd by the Cards. Good defensive catcher that would be good for backup. Otherwise roll with Caratini.

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    Caratini is a capable backup, but now we have to pray for health. Taylor Davis would be next up if there is another injury, and past him probably waiver wire fodder

  • Losing Contreras really stinks. Especially with Russell being out and Bryant's offensive numbers suffering since his pinky injury.

    It's true that the NL Central is not strong. And the Cubs's schedule is weak. But they just aren't play well.

  • There are two sides to this scenario. Mr. "Glass Half Empty" would say 'if you could handpick the one Cub player to go on the DL that would hurt their chances of winning the most, that is Contreras'. He is our MVP so far this year, right? I think Rizzo would get consideration, too, but the smart money would be on Willson. It just seems like that type of year for the Cubs.

    Now Mrs. "Glass Half Full", after a little player analysis, would say "Avila absolutely rakes against RH pitching, and would make an ideal strong side platoon with Caratini. Combined, their offensive production may not be a significant dropoff from Willson. And Avila is good at throwing out base stealers. Not average, but good. About as good as Contreras is."

    As for me, I'm with the Missus on this one. Still like the Cubs chances to win the division this year. Certainly no lock there, but whatever does happen, these next few months provide an amazing learning opportunity for the team. An opportunity that will pay rewards in future seasons. So yes, I'm still excited for 2017. Let's go, Cubs!

    For those about to rock,
    We salute you!

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    In reply to HefCA:

    The cubs will be lucky to finish 5 games behind whomever wins the NL central..which will probably be the cardinals because they're easily the best team in the NL central right now.

  • In reply to Greg Simmons:

    But Greg????.......I'm confused......just 3 weeks ago you told us the Pirates were the "class of the division"....
    Are you a financial advisor in your day job? Email me.....where do I sign up?

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    In reply to Greg Simmons:

    The problem is that "right now" isn't the same thing as "the season." Yes, the Cardinals are hot, but have not overtaken the Cubs. And after this weekend the Cubs play almost exclusively teams at or below .500 (or no more than a few games better right now). Keep in mind, the Cardinals are riding a 6 game winning streak. As the adage goes, "You are never as bad as when you are on a losing streak and never as good as when you are on a winning streak." The Cardinals are still the Cardinals for better or worse. But these are not one of the great Cards teams.

  • In reply to Joel Mayer:

    Joel, good effort but I've given up arguing with this guy. I don't know if he's a closet Cardinals fan or if he's been so traumatized by them that it's just fear but his take on that team is not supported by data. Now, that doesn't mean they can't or won't win this division, I doubt they will but in a race this tight where nobody seems to want to take the thing never say never. The bottom line is that I don't think the Cards are as talented as the Cubs, Brewers or Pirates and talent should rise to the top, but of course that isn't always the case. Their winning streak will end soon and then we'll see where everyone is positioned for the last 6 weeks.

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    If we get the Avila from the 1st H of the season, we will be very very happy and probably only miss Willson's D and energy. If we get the Avila for the last month or so, we are going to see a lot of Caratini.

    Regardless the other players are going to all step up. Schwarbenator, Russell when he returns, Heyward, Zobrist, and even Bryant to a degree are all going to have to take there game to another level. A couple of them or at least one is going to have to get so hot as to carry the team for a couple weeks.

    Without it, this team is in more trouble then it looks.

  • My post was eaten by the filter monster. Can somebody get it to regurgitate my "pearls of wisdom"?
    Much obliged.

  • Dead on Mike as far as the 1 game difference is involved which only matters if they miss the playoffs by that much. There are still other factors involved that could negate that loss or even improve on it.

    The Dodgers and Nationals have suffered injuries and motored on, the Cubs being a top NL team should do the same, they ain't the Mets.

    Zobrist and Bryant have been dinged up and Bryant's power numbers fell off the cliff while Zobrist is having the first year of his career where he won't come close to .280. You would think both of them will improve the last 2 months.

  • Cubs reddit is saying Contreras out 3-4 weeks.No surgery necessary.

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    Update on Willson Contreras

    Saying bad hamstring pull for big Willy

    No surgery needed. Out 3-4 weeks.

    This is not good, but it could have been worse. He should be back for the stretch run and 100% for the playoffs. Now let's go win some games !

  • https://twitter.com/barstoolcarl/status/895748184219287553

    here's the tweet from barstool carl

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    Anyone see how well our old friend Tommy Hunter is pitching for TB this year?

    Wish KC had the bullpen they have been known to have the past few years, as the Cards are just abusing their relief corps this week. Pirates already won and if scores hold up, Cards win again and Brew crew lose.

  • fb_avatar
    In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    Fowler w a big day as the new cleanup hitter w 5 rbi including a grand salami

  • Don't look now but the Cardinals are about to further close the gap. After the Cubs weekend against AZ, it is very possible, the Cubs are no longer in 1st place. The good news is the remainder of the season is kind with regards to the Cubs schedule. .

  • fb_avatar

    If the Astros can keep winning w out McCullers, Correa, and Keuchel for awhile, the world champs should be able to weather the storm. If they band together and take this as a challenge, they will surprise us all because they could easily run off a 15-5 run over the next 3 weeks or so.

  • In reply to Jim Odirakallumkal:

    Easily?

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