Major League Baseball
Three reasons why Brewers' William Contreras is the best catcher in baseball
Major League Baseball

Three reasons why Brewers' William Contreras is the best catcher in baseball

Updated May. 2, 2024 8:55 a.m. ET

First, there was shock. Then, there was delight. 

The shock emanated from Atlanta, after Braves general manager Alex Anthopolous traded away his young All-Star catcher for a top-five backstop. The delight came from Milwaukee, as Brewers fans realized their front office had just pulled off a heist.

In December 2022, William Contreras was part of a three-team trade that sent him from the reigning world champion Atlanta Braves, the only organization he had ever known, to the Brewers, where he has since become a beloved and essential piece of their roster. The Braves couldn't pass up the opportunity to grab Sean Murphy from the Athletics, and the Brewers only gave up outfielder Esteury Ruiz in the swap.

No one would've faulted Contreras if he needed a few months, perhaps even a full season, with an unfamiliar team to adjust to his new role as the full-time catcher for Milwaukee. But Contreras embraced his opportunity, revamped his defense and immediately slugged from the top of the order as the trade, already favorable on paper for the Brewers, quickly became a jackpot.


With all due respect to Adley Rutschman, Will Smith, Salvador Pérez, Yainer Díaz and Willson Contreras, William Contreras has ascended to become the best catcher in baseball. Here are three reasons why.

1. He's a pure, top-tier hitter

A catcher who can really hit? Say no more. Contreras has the best fWAR among all major-league catchers since the start of the 2023 season. And since 2022, the first season Contreras played at least 60 games in the majors, he ranks first in average (.292), on-base percentage (.370), slugging (.485) and OPS (.855) among 23 qualifying big-league catchers. Everything's coming up Contreras, even his advanced metrics. Since 2022, he has the best average exit velocity (91.3 mph) and top hard hit rate (49%), too.

Now is around the time you might be thinking, uh, what about that perennial MVP candidate who plays catcher for the Orioles? Contreras has simply been more consistent and more effective at the plate than Rutschman — and all full-time catchers, actually. Only Pérez, who's spending 40% of his time at first base or DH, has a higher OPS than Contreras (.958). No catcher comes within 10 of Contreras' 28 runs scored or has walked as much (15). His .345 average ranks fourth in the National League and his 64 total bases sixth. 

These days, Contreras often flashes the ultimate flex: batting leadoff as a catcher. And he isn't just elite at the dish because he's a backstop. Contreras is in the 99th percentile in batting run value, the 98th percentile in hard-hit percentage, and the 96th percentile in average exit velocity — among all position players. Plus, he's a master at timely hitting. Contreras has the most game-winning RBIs (24) among all catchers since 2022, and the most hits with two outs and runners in scoring position in that span.

When the pressure is at a boiling point, when a hit is needed the most, Contreras is a player every team would want at the plate. That's the mark of an elite hitter, much less a premier catcher.

2. His defense is improving

Contreras isn't just a glorified designated hitter moonlighting as a catcher. The 26-year-old's defense has vastly improved under the Brewers' catching lab, and while he thoroughly impressed us behind the plate in 2023, now he has the challenge of maintaining that consistency across multiple seasons.

Contreras' transformation with his framing, blocking and throwing was eye-popping last year. In just a matter of months, the backstop evolved from a below-average defender in Atlanta to posting top-tier catching metrics in Milwaukee. He improved his strike rate from 45.1% in 2022 to 49.2% in 2023. He became an excellent framer, going from a below-average -3 framing runs in 2022 to an above-average seven framing runs in 2023. With the Brewers, he started effectively blocking all those breaking balls and led all catchers in blocking runs saved last year. His caught stealing percentage also jumped from 7% in 2022 to 17% in 2023 despite the new rules. 

To improve all of these defensive catching metrics — all at once, in just one year — is nothing short of spectacular.

Milwaukee, of course, has a strong track record of improving catcher defense, from Omar Narváez to Yasmani Grandal to Victor Caratini to, now, Contreras. But the magic of the Brewers' coaching staff isn't the only element to Contreras' success. There must be a full buy-in from the catcher's side, and Contreras has demonstrated the hard work, application, and repetition necessary to flaunt such a major turnaround behind the plate.

What's most interesting is that the Braves gave up Contreras in large part because of his subpar defense. Atlanta traded for Murphy, another slugging catcher with a Gold Glove to his name, because he was a significant upgrade on defense without losing much pop on offense. With the Braves, Contreras was in the 20th percentile in framing and the 50th percentile in pop time. Murphy, meanwhile, had been in the 86th percentile in framing and the 96th percentile in pop time with the A's.

But, perhaps, the Braves didn't account for Contreras' younger age and greater durability compared to Murphy. Contreras, three-plus years younger than Murphy, has played in 170 games compared to Murphy's 109 since the start of the 2023 season. Murphy is currently sitting idle on the injured list, while Contreras is in the early-season conversation for the National League MVP award. 

3. He has the requisite drive

A player's will to achieve is not something that can be taught. Contreras' new teammates in Milwaukee have repeatedly noted just how much his work ethic stands out. He's a student of the game, and he's acing all of his tests. His determination to be the best, all while modeling his game after some of this sport's best catchers, like Pérez and Yadier Molina, lends to his rise as the top catcher in MLB. 

And it's not like Contreras is ascending during a dormant period for slugging catchers. In fact, it's the opposite. Right now, catchers are all the rave again thanks to a cluster of young stars with lots of pop. Whether it's Rutschman, Díaz, Francisco Álvarez or Gabriel Moreno, there are plenty of newcomers who could challenge proven veterans like J.T. Realmuto, Perez, Smith, Murphy and William's older brother Willson for the title of best catcher. Young blood is mixing with vets at the top of their game, making for legitimate reasons to be excited about MLB catchers in the present and the future. 

It's just that, well, no one is pulling ahead in the race quite like the Brewers' special backstop. 

The backdrop of this loaded competition only makes Contreras' two-way exploits that much more impressive. Another full season of stellar production should convince those who might not be paying close attention to the mid-market Brewers. But for the better part of a year now, Contreras has been wearing a crown fit for the game's contemporary catcher king.

Deesha Thosar is an MLB writer for FOX Sports. She previously covered the Mets as a beat reporter for the New York Daily News. The daughter of Indian immigrants, Deesha grew up on Long Island and now lives in Queens. Follow her on Twitter at @DeeshaThosar.


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