The St. Louis Cardinals are off to a very rough start to the 2023 season. Starting pitching has met their expectations of being mediocre, the potential potent lineup is stuck in place with runners in scoring position, and the decision-making from the coaching staff has been questionable. For an organization set on winning every season, it is looking shaky from the get-go. One player in general is not getting talked about enough for his start and it brings much concern. Is it time to panic about Willson Contreras?
Lack of Production
The entire fanbase has attacked Andrew Knizer for being a useless catcher with no value added to the team. Is there any difference with Contreras at the moment? His current slash line is .171/.261/.195 (.456 OPS, 29 OPS+) with 7 hits over 41 ABs. His WAR is at -0.1 which is the opposite of what you want to see. For a catcher known for his offense and known for his rather poor defensive ability, this is a major red flag.
Well, what about his Statcast numbers? Maybe those will show some promise that he is just getting unlucky? Well……….not so much. His max exit velocity is in the 77th percentile which is great. And his strikeout% and walk% are 72nd and 65th accordingly. So he is being disciplined at the plate and hitting the ball hard. That seems promising!
The big issue is his avg exit velocity is slightly above league average and his barrel%, whiff%, hardhit%, and xSLG are very low. So when he makes contact, odds are he is making poor contact. So he is having good at-bats, he is just hitting the ball poorly. Red flag.
So what adjustments are needing to be made? It's safe to say his entire plate approach is on recognizing pitch location in the at-bats. He has struggled versus all pitch types, but he is really struggling versus breaking pitches. His BA is .133 and the expected BA is .160. So Statcast believes he has no chance at hitting offspeed. Red flag.
With a long-term commitment to the “future catcher of Cardinals Baseball'', is it premature to think this won't work out? Absolutely. But Cardinals fans have been down this road before. If you need a flashback…….Dexter Fowler. Fowler at least had a good first year before everything fell apart. Contreras is looking like he's fallen apart, especially with an injury that busted up his knee.
Can Knizner step up to give Contreras time to figure out his issues? Cardinals fans will tell you no. His stat line and Statcast data on the year will also tell you no. So do they give Ivan Herrera another shot? He has had a great start to the 2023 Milb season in Memphis where he has a .874 OPS to start the year. But we saw last season that he is not MLB-ready. To spark plug this team and get the gears turning, maybe it's time to give the kid another shot.
With very high expectations from the Cardinals fanbase, the goal is to win the world series. Not the Wild Card spot, not the division, THE World Series. The start of this season has been so rough that fans are even doubting a winning season. It is still very early in the season and there is a lot of baseball to be played. But it is the start of questioning from the fanbase on the season outlook., and it starts with the team's biggest offseason acquisition to fill the biggest void in the current ownership group's tenure.