The Willson Contreras saga continues.
We are having the “should he catch” conversation all over again. There was a comment made recently that maybe he might just be limited to DH, a few games behind the plate, and even in the outfield, and oh the outrage.
I have no idea what the plans are and I really don’t think the Cardinals do either at this point. The way this team moves players around with no real planning it wouldn't surprise me to see him be one of the additions to the pitching staff that Mozeliak keeps talking about.
It’s a common theme that if the Cardinals decide that Contreras shouldn't be a full-time catcher then he somehow loses value. That is never said when they move an outfielder to the infield, outfielders to the infield, turn starters into relievers, or relievers into starters. Instead of just dismissing the idea of having Contreras catch less, let’s look at what happens if they convert Willson Contreras into their full-time designated hitter.
When the rule was changed to implement the DH, the Cardinals decided that instead of getting one traditional DH player, they would use a rotation. The stats show we may have outsmarted ourselves. If we change how we regard the DH spot, then Contreras actually has more value.
Most baseball teams value the designated hitter position more than all other positions. This is the average breakdown of salary allocated by position across all teams according to Spotrac.
SALARY (IN MILLIONS)
What are other teams doing with their designated hitter position? These are the players that had over 300 plate appearances in 2023 as a DH listed by Baseball-reference.com.
What did the Cardinals get out of that position using a combination of players?
Only the White Sox, Tigers, As, and Mets had one WAR less than the Cardinals from the DH position.
And if Contreras was their full-time DH?
Only the Angles (Ohtani), Phillies (Harper), and Astros (Alverez) would have a better WAR than the Cardinals.
The Cardinal would improve the production from the DH spot by quite a bit. Looking at the stats other than WAR, he sits comfortably in the middle in all categories, not just one. The other part of the equation that would make him the most valuable DH in MLB, other than Ohtani, is that most of these players only play the outfield. Contreras can and would still be able to catch giving him an incredible edge over everyone other than Ohtani.
Some of you have already made the jump to thinking that is a lot of money to pay for a DH. Here are the 2023 DH salaries of just those over 300 PA DHers. Thanks to Spotrac.
2023 SALARY (IN MILLIONS)
AVERAGE DH SALARY
This year we paid Wilson Contreras 10 million dollars. He would have a salary less than the average DH and only the 7th most expensive DH on the list. Contreras would have outperformed most. That is better value than being the sixth-highest-paid catcher, especially when some don’t want him to catch. Next year he becomes the third highest-paid catcher in all of baseball. Even if you want to use his average salary for the length of his contract which is 17.5, he still falls in nicely with the other high-paid designated hitters when you look at cost and production. Keep in mind the Cardinals have their salary locked down for the next few years.
Still not convinced that a full-time DH is an important part of the team? Back to Baseball-reference.com, you can find the 2023 MLB Team Position Performance by Wins Above Average. Sorting the page by DH you see something very interesting. Here is a list of teams that had a WAA plus rating from their DHs.
WINS ABOVE AVERAGE
All of the teams that had a plus rating with the exception of the Athletics made the playoffs. All the teams with a plus Wins Above Average from the DH spot had a full-time DH with the exception of Baltimore, Toronto, and Texas. Toronto would have but Brandon Belt only had 278 plate appearances as a DH because of various injuries, just missing the 300 PA cutoff. Contreras had a 1.8 WAA which would have ranked him number 3 on the list.
Seven weeks into the season next year Willson Contreras will turn 32. This is the age that most catchers start to decline and you see a lot of catchers as they get older start to spend less time behind the place and start learning how to play first base.
If Conteras is our full-time DH that would change the complexion of this team for the better. The Cardinals would have one of the best designated hitters in the game. The defense behind the plate gets better. If we are to believe that he is not the best candidate to call a game the pitching gets better. Goldschmidt and Aranado could actually have a real day off instead of still having to DH.
One more stat to put into the equation. The record with Contreras as DH was 14 and 14. Exactly .500. With him as catcher we were 36/51. If we had the same .500 record for those 97 games. we would have ended the year with 83 wins. The Cubs were fighting for a playoff spot right up to the last week of the season and finished with, you got it, exactly 83 wins.
To all those who think we are losing something if Contreras is not earning his money sitting behind the plate, I urge you to rethink. This is a team that is very slow to react to changes. You could say that about the fans too. We were slow to change the pitch to contact philosophy. Teams started using the shift and we finally started to use it more just before it was outlawed. This year MLB changed the rules to increase stolen bases. The league went from 2,486 in 2022 to 3,503 in 2023. This is about a 40% increase. What did we do? We went from 95 to 101 or about six percent. Maybe we need to react and change the way we view the DH position.
If we continue to look at things as we always have, 2024 will be another long year.