Contreras the monster; Ruiz and a really weird line
A few notes as the Braves prepare to go for 12 wins in a row as they play the opener in Washington on Monday night… both about catchers, which is a risky proposition since I have no idea if either or both will be in the lineup come this evening.
Contreras hulks out… unless it breaks
At this point, William Contreras’ batting line is hilarious if you’re a Braves fan, and terrifying if you’re not. He has a .410 xwOBA (league average is .329) and a .543 xwOBACON (league average is .387). His barrel rate (per ball in play) is nearly triple the league-average rate. He is elite in exit velocity on non-grounders and hard-hit rate; among players with 50+ batted ball events, he is fifth in barrel rate and sixth in barrels per PA.
There’s kind of a sense that Contreras is doing this solely by mashing fastballs — but that’s only partly true. Rather, he’s actually mashing stuff that doesn’t break:
Changeups and cutters are being creamed just as much as four-seamers and two-seamers. The issue has been the bread-and-butter breaking stuff, sliders and curves, and pitchers may be figuring this out, but not nearly fast enough:
One reason why: early on, Contreras wasn’t chasing many sliders and therefore wasn’t whiffing on them. The pitcher adjustment to throw him fewer sliders then went terribly as he mashed everything else. A steady diet of sliders may throw him into a funk for a bit, but the league has to ask itself: what if he stops swinging at them again?
(As a side note, Contreras has swung at 16 in-zone four-seamers in June. He’s missed nine of them, which is a super-high rate, but homered on two, had a hard single on another, and made two weak outs. That’s a great way to turn a weird-looking rate into serious damage, and is right in line with what the Braves have been preaching.)
I don’t know if Contreras is going to be in the lineup against Josiah Gray, but if he is, his PAs will be interesting. Gray has a bunch of the right pieces: he has a rising fastball and very strong command of his slider and curve. But, he also lacks important components: his fastball command is a mess and probably his biggest issue, and he throws his breaking pitches so hard that they don’t really “break” as much as their league-average counterparts. If they face off today, it’ll be like a microscopic test case — is it the motion of the breaking pitch that throws Contreras off, or the pitch itself. Either that, or he can just tee off on a poorly-located Gray fastball, as the latter throws it over 40 percent of the time.
Adventures in xwOBA with Keibert Ruiz
The Nationals have a pretty sad position player unit (bottom five in MLB in fWAR), but the trio of Juan Soto (1.3 fWAR), Josh Bell (1.1), and Keibert Ruiz (1.1) have led the way for them. Ruiz, in particular, has the weirdest line:
Setting aside the fact that Ruiz is underperforming his xwOBA by more than all but around 30 players out of the 260-plus with the most PAs, his xwOBA itself is a curiosity. It is very good (.373), but he doesn’t actually do “the main xwOBA thing” of hitting the ball hard. (He does do a good job of avoiding grounders.) His hard-hit rate is bad, his barrel rate is paltry, and as seen through his maximum exit velocity, he’s not showing signs of brimming with untapped power potential, either.
So, how is his xwOBA as high as it is, especially considering he walks at close to a league-average rate? For once, it’s the strikeouts. Ruiz barely strikes out — he literally has the fourth-lowest strikeout rate in MLB among players with 180 or more PAs. This has created a weird ballast for his xwOBA. Recall that in the way xwOBA works, a ball in play usually has some chance of resulting in a hit, even if fairly low. Strikeouts, however, credit .000 to the batter. A strikeout is therefore relatively more punishing in xwOBA than in wOBA, because in wOBA, there are all sorts of .000 results, but in xwOBA, it’s pretty much just the strikeout. Yet, Ruiz has managed to get so few of those .000s that his mediocre xwOBACON (.376) pretty much is his xwOBA (since his walk rate and strikeout rate are similar, and walks are around .700 in xwOBA and wOBA, which gives him around .350 on xwOBACON events and .376 on those events).
So, if Ruiz is in the lineup this series, marvel at the guy whose strikeout, walk, and quality of contact figures are balanced enough to essentially make his xwOBA equal to his xwOBACON, and not in a bad way. The average batter this season has an xwOBACON around .060 higher than wOBA, which really puts Ruiz’ .003 into perspective. Though, if you want to see some real freakish weirdos, check out the 2022 lines for Steven Kwan (the most ridiculous slap hitter performance I think I’ve ever seen) and Yandy Diaz (literally nothing about this makes sense).