In my 2013 BaseballGuys Draft Guide I highlighted Jonathan Lucroy as a player you wouldn’t have to spend top dollar on, but he was a player I suggested folks target. In plan language – I liked the guy. Turns out my like should have been love since he went out and had an impressive season for the Brewers. Let us count the ways.
Lucroy hit .280 in 2013. That’s a better mark than Carlos Santana (.268)
Lucroy had 82 RBIs. Uh folks, you may not have realized it, but that was the most in baseball for a catcher (Mike Napoli had 92 and technically that means he wins since he was catcher eligible in fantasy, but we know he wasn’t really a catcher).
Pretty damn good right? Let’s add it up.
How many catcher eligible players hit .270 with 15 homers, 70 RBIs and 50 runs scored in 2013? Three man qualify for that category – Rosario, Posey and Lucroy. How about that?
Lucroy had one hell of a season. Let’s look a bit deeper.
Lucroy is a .279 career hitter who batted .280 in 2013. Makes sense. He’s also hit .295 over his last 837 at-bats (he batted .320 in 2012). He owns a career .306 BABIP. He owns a career 22.1 percent line drive rate. Those numbers suggest that not only could he be a .280 hitter but that a run to .300 is possible in 2014 (as it was in 2012). Lucroy also cut one percentage point of his tendency to swing at pitches outside the strike zone, and he increased his contract rate on swings inside the strike zone by a percentage point. He also doesn’t strike out much. In fact, he’s only whiffed 113 times in his last 837 at-bats including a mere 69 punchouts in 521 at-bats in 2013. That’s an impressive mark in this day and age. The resulting contact rate of 87.4 percent, not to mention being virtually identical to his 87.6 percent mark in 2012, is a borderline elite mark. All of these factors suggest the batting average is legit.
After hitting 12 homers in two straight seasons he went deep 18 times in 2013. Things obviously improved in the power department. Or did they? Here are Lucroy’s marks the past three seasons. You’ll note very little changed.
2011: 34.0 Fly ball rate, 10.7 HR/F ratio, HR per 35.8 ABs
2012: 37.5 Fly ball rate, 11.7 HR/F ratio, HR per 26.3 ABs
2103: 38.0 Fly ball rate, 10.3 HR/F ratio, HR per 28.9 ABs
Love the consistency, but it also suggests the following – Lucroy would seem to have a top end of about 20 homers. That can be deduced by the fact that (A) he’s basically a league average fly ball bat, (b) he’s basically a league averaged HR/F bat and (C) it will be very hard for him to gain more than the 521 at-bats he had in 2013. Most catchers just don’t get that much work (Santana – 541 and Wieters 523 were the only two backstops with more at-bats). If he doesn’t get the at-bats he’s just not going to hit the homers.
The RBIs were fantastic coming from a guy who had 59 and 58 the previous two seasons. Again, let’s put those numbers in context. In 2011-12 Lucroy produced an RBI every 6.96 plate appearances. In 2013 that number was 7.07. The extra workload made the difference. He was basically the same hitter he had been previously.
An I think that is what should be noted most carefully with Lucroy. The assumption is going to be that he had a breakout season in 2013. Honestly he did, but it was only because he played so many games an accrued so many plate appearances. Can he go for 580 plate appearances again? Not only had he never had 470 plate appearances in a season but with the way teams rest catchers now it’s a bit difficult to figure that Lucroy gets as much work again. Since 2000 there have only been 14 catchers to have one season of 575 plate appearances. Only 11 have been able to get to that level twice in the 14 years. Moreover, only three backstops have 575 plate appearances the last two seasons: Santana, Posey and Wieters. It’s just a big number for catchers. So if Lucroy ends up with 500 plate appearances instead of 580 in 2014 he’s gonna be a .280-15-70-50 type of catcher. Those are strong numbers, but not elite.
Lucroy is a stable, safe option for 2013. He also might be drafted by some who think he took a substantial step forward in 2013. He really didn’t. He did cut his K-rate while improving his BB-rate an I like that an awful lot, but as this brief review has shown there’s a lot of similar stuff going on with Lucroy as his 2013 effort was mostly about workload, not skills improvement. He’ll be a solid first catcher if you’re not going to reach for one of the big boys in 2014.
By Ray Flowers