Lucroy: Waive”ing” Goodbye To Top Tier Catcher Status?

Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening — whichever is applicable to you. Pleasure is rarely derived when drafting a catcher. If you pay the premium for a top-tier guy, you and everyone else in the room know the production provided will most likely not equal that of the price paid. If you go slumming you’ll likely play catcher roulette all season in one catcher formats, and hope the production isn’t harmful in those that require two.

Over the years I’ve been on both sides. I’ve paid the premium for Posey and have submitted lineups that featured both Miguel Montero and Jason Castro. While I wouldn’t wish the latter on my worst enemy, paying the premium only works if you get what you paid for.

Jonathan Lucroy is a name that sticks out to me as a perceived building block for the position. While his asking price may not be that of Buster Posey, or perhaps Gary Sanchez, you’ll still be paying a premium for his services. Coming into last season Lucroy was considered by most as a solid double-digit home runs source with good batting average skill. His position in the Brewers lineup would figure to provide him with more run and RBI potential than other Catchers.

So, despite having only played in 103 games in 2015, Lucroy was slapped with an ADP of 102 and was the 2nd Catcher off the board in 2016 NFBC drafts. While his status as the number two catcher may not change, his ADP will. After hitting .292 with 24 home runs and 81 RBIs to highlight his stat-line, Lucroy managed to rank as the top catcher in Yahoo 5×5 standard scoring.

This week we at the Fantasy Assembly have been focusing on the Catcher position from a Dynasty perspective. So naturally the top overall Catcher from last season, a player who’s built a resume of steady production would be well thought of by all, correct? Every site has that one negative type, and I suppose when it comes to Lucroy, I’m wearing the hat. Let’s start from the beginning.

Let’s say this season will mark the startup year for the Dynasty. At 30, Lucroy won’t be the recipient of a senior discount so his ADP will mirror that of a standard redraft. If you take his ADP from last year and factor in his success, it’s reasonable to suspect a top 80 selection for Lucroy in 2017. His production last year didn’t crack the top-100 players. Best case scenario, you get a repeat and lose draft day value, which just doesn’t seem to be a scenario I’m comfortable with.

Continuing with hypotheticals. You’re a proud owner of Lucroy in a Dynasty format. It’s only a matter of time before 2017 rankings will begin to fill the search boxes of every member of your league. Nearly each and every one of those rankings will have Jonathan Lucroy’s name near the top. Each and every league will have a catcher situation they will want addressed. If Lucroy’s future path goes as I expect it to, his value will never be higher. You would be surprised how many players evaluate their teams on a position by position basis. These are the players who would be willing to move an impact outfielder or first baseman for the assumed top-tier production Lucroy will offer.




So coming off a career year, why exactly am I so skeptical of Lucroy continuing on the path he established this year? While the surface numbers showed no sign of concerns, that is not the case for some of the underlying indicators. Let’s start with some declining plate discipline numbers. 2016 marked the 2nd consecutive year Lucroy’s K% has increased. In 2014 Lucroy managed a 10.8%; that number went to 15.4% in 2015 and 18.4% in 2016.

While his BB% has remained consistent, the increase in strikeouts has naturally resulted in decreased contact. His 81.8% rate this season was a career low (4% below his career mark) and marked the second consecutive year in decline. Lucroy’s swinging strike rate of 7.8 was also a career high, and you guessed it, marked a 2nd consecutive trend heading in the wrong direction. Lucroy also managed a career low in Zone Contact with an 88.2% mark which was over 3.5% below his career mark. When your attempting to project a player moving forward, aren’t trends like this a little concerning?

The plate discipline and contact issues aren’t the only areas of concerns for me. Lucroy’s batted ball profile has potential warning signs as well. Lucroy managed a career low 0.96 GB/FB rate; his career mark sits at 1.14. In 2016 that 0.96 GB/FB rate was combined with a 15.8% HR/FB rate. The good fortune resulted in a career high home run total for Lucroy. His career HR/FB rate is nearly 6% lower than the 15.8% mark last season. Should Lucroy’s fly ball approach not be accompanied by the lofty HR/FB rate you could be looking at a double whammy of decline? Naturally the homerun totals would take a hit but one should also expect a decline in AVG as an increased FB% typically has that effect.

Additional batted ball concerns can be found in an increased Pull Rate at the expense of hitting the ball to the opposite field, in addition to last season’s Soft Contact mark of 21.1%, which was the first time since 2011 it was north of 20%. Each and every one of these batted Ball numbers, if not corrected, could prove to be very impactful on Lucroy’s seemingly safest skill set, batting average. None of these potential issues suggest Lucroy will hit .250, but together they certainly seem to make .300 feel like a stretch.

The counting stats and average marks for 2016 labels Lucroy among the elite at his position. Even sabermetric numbers such as wOBA (1st), wRC+ (2nd), and ISO (1st) support the case for Lucroy being the best of the best in 2016. Last year is closed and we are looking forward – forward to 2017 when Lucroy returns to a solid across the board player. The type of player who will hit you 15 home runs and bats .285. The type of player who will provide respectable run and RBI totals for a catcher. That is the type of player Lucroy has been over the first six years of his career.

Those are great scenarios for your catcher, but at this point in time Lucroy’s value on the market is more than that of a catcher. I cannot urge you enough to capitalize while you can. Steady players across the board are fun to own from year to year. In a dynasty format those steady numbers steadily decline: 15 HR a season becomes 12, .280 becomes .260. With the decline comes a drop in the lineup, which leads to declining run and RBI production.

Lucroy’s production will not fall off a cliff. He will continue to produce top-10 seasons for his position, but so will nine other catchers. Move on from Lucroy and look for your next sell high opportunity.

 

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Josh Coleman
Father of four SP1 children. Replacement level husband to a top tier wife. I love my family, value my friendships, and spend as much time as possible (too much according to the aforementioned Mrs. Coleman) dedicated to the pursuit, of another Fantasy Championship. I'm the oddball at the bar who prefers Fantasy Baseball to Fantasy Football.