St. Louis Cardinals president of baseball operations John Mozeliak declared at a recent press conference, “I definitely think we’re going to treat the deadline as pitching, pitching, pitching.” That’s great but who should be catching all this new pitching?
It’s not news that Willson Contreras has taken the heat for our pitching problems. Is it justified?
This off-season the front office had two goals. The first was the Cardinals had to replace Yadier Molina behind the plate. Second, since they weren't sure at the time if Jordan Walker would be ready to be a full-time contributor at the big league level, they needed to add another big bat. We can argue one of those goals should have been to add a number one starter but that is for another article.
They took the easier and cheaper way out and tried to accomplish both goals with one signing. If you go back and read all the remarks at the time of the signing, the fact that he could catch was just a bonus.
The plan was to catch approximately 75% of the time and DH the rest.
Shortly after his signing, Contreras announced he would skip the World Baseball Classic to get to know his pitchers. He said “I'm focused on learning my pitching staff, learning my team, doing everything that I can to make this team a little better”
Mark Feinsand of MLB.com quoted Oliver Marmol as saying, “I think he made that super clear, being here to know his teammates and organization is the most important thing and it's benefited everybody a ton. I appreciated him making that decision because it does allow for him to download a lot more of the stuff we do here. He’s been unbelievable.”
By May 5, Marmol was saying something completely different. He decided to remove Contreras from all catching duties.
“We’ve had a lot of conversation about it,” Marmol said. “This allows for some familiarity behind the plate with our guys, which I think will help, especially in the state that we’re in.”
So after having Contreras sign on Dec. 9, getting to work immediately on learning this staff, passing on the WBC, and getting high praise from the manager during spring training, he was publicly criticized and removed from his catching duties just weeks after the season started.
Even his old manager, Joe Madden, jumped in and said that made no sense.
After all that turmoil, he was back behind the plate on May 15. He apparently learned more about catching this pitching staff in those ten days than he did in the five months since his signing.
Since we can't be included in private conversations with management or hear everything being said between Contreras and the pitching staff, we can make some conclusions by looking at results instead of just opinions and conjecture.
By looking at the breakdown between pitchers and catchers we can see some numbers that may turn the light into another direction.
Willson Contreras hasn't been the strongest catcher for Cardinals pitchers
It’s not as simple as what Marmol said about Contreras knowing the pitching staff. If you look at the chart, Jordan Montgomery and Adam Wainwright have a better record with Contreras than Andrew Knizner. There are some stats that jump out though.
If you look at Jack Flaherty you see a huge swing. Digging deeper we can see what that meant to his won/loss record.
The question we should be asking is what if Contreras caught Flaherty less and Montgomery and Wainwright more? Would five more games with Montgomery and five fewer with Flaherty mean maybe seven more wins? That would get his team to within a couple of games of first place in our division.
It seems like too many times this year when looking at the numbers I see something different than what the Cardinals’ management says.
Instead of management working with the players and putting them in a better position to succeed, I see them passing the blame. Making a scapegoat of the players instead of admitting the coaching staff’s failure to recognize patterns quickly enough and address those shortcomings is not a successful formula for winning baseball.
I hope that the Cardinals figure out how to make this work before we get rid of Montgomery and Flaherty and get in a whole new batch of pitchers.