With three starters, Chicago will be well-represented at the start of the All-Star Game on Tuesday in Washington. Fans will be able to get an early look at Cubs second baseman Javy Baez and catcher Willson Contreras for the National League and White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu for the American League.
Let’s take a by-the-numbers look at each.
Baez: The NL leader in RBI with 72, Baez has been productive on the bases as well as at the plate. Fangraphs.com lists him fourth in the NL with 5.4 baserunning runs. His 18 stolen bases in 20 tries, including two steals of home, are part of that. So is going from first to third on a single, scoring on errors after a steal of second and all of his derring-do in taking extra bases whenever he can.
By isolated power — the portion of slugging percentage that comes from extra bases — Baez’s .274 is tied with the Rockies’ Nolan Arenado for second in the NL.
Baez’s 3.4 fWAR leads the Cubs, is tied for third in the NL and is within hailing distance of leader Arenado’s 3.9.
There are challenges, however. Baez has swung at 48.3 percent of pitches outside the strike zone, the most in the NL. His 3.8 percent walk rate is the lowest in the league. It’s difficult to maintain productivity while chasing pitches out of the zone, but Baez is a very unusual player.
Contreras: He has hit for less power this season, with seven home runs and a .449 slugging percentage so far after 21 homers and a .499 slugging percentage in 2017. Contreras’ .818 OPS is down a bit from his .855 last season.
But once offensive context, including park effects and league average, is taken into account, Contreras’ numbers this season look similar to those of 2017. By weighted runs created plus, which weighs all offensive contributions and normalizes so 100 is league average, Contreras is at 122 — virtually the same as his 121 last season.
Contreras still struggles with pitch-framing, and statcorner.com lists him at minus-26 strikes. That means Cubs pitchers have had 26 fewer pitches called strikes than you’d expect with an average catcher. Overall, however, Contreras has been strong with a 2.5 fWAR, second among NL catchers to the Marlins’ J.T. Realmuto (3.5).
Abreu: Even All-Stars struggle sometimes, and Abreu has been struggling. A protracted slump has dropped him from a .319 batting average and .942 OPS on May 26 to his current .253 and .752. In four previous seasons, his lowest batting average was .290 in 2015 and his lowest OPS was .820 in 2016.
Through much of the voting period, Abreu was the most productive AL first baseman. He still ranks fourth in that group with 13 homers, but only one has come in the last month. There also are five AL first-base regulars who top his 101 wRC+.
To be an important part of the Sox’ rebuild, Abreu needs to recapture the form in which he averaged an .883 OPS and 31 homers in his first four seasons.