Expectations weren’t sky-high for Jonathan Lucroy coming into 2013. For many, Lucroy represented a solid fallback option once some of the bigger names came off the board, with an ADP somewhere in the 120’s. His projections looked something akin to .270/.330/.400 with double digit home runs and 50/50 runs and RBI. Not thrilling, but nice. You could check off that pesky catcher position and move on to other issues.
You probably would need to be an owner who drafted him to remember that by the end of May, Lucroy had a .229/.286/.333 slash line with just three home runs. He was starting to hit waiver wires with an ownership rate well below 50%, and it started to look like it was a lost season for Lucroy. Back then*, it looked like his BABIP was uncharacteristically low, his line drive rate was still healthy, and his plate discipline was as good as ever. At the time, I hypothesized that better days were to come, and boy howdy should I have thrown down some money on that.
From June 1 to the end of the season, Lucroy hit .302/.362/.505 with 15 home runs, 62 RBI and he even threw in seven steals. Suddenly, Lucroy wasn’t just a role player to avoid a black hole at the catcher position, he was a huge contributor to teams down the stretch and his overall value, according to the statistical wizardry of Zach Sanders, bettered that of Carlos Santana, Buster Posey, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Salvador Perez.
Looking at his rankings in standard roto categories, it’s pretty easy to see just how handy Lucroy was this season:
Typically with the catcher position, you’re going to give something away to get something. You want a catcher who will hit 20 home runs? You’ll probably need to eat that batting average. You want batting average? You’ll have to eat just about everything else. But Lucroy is emerging as a middle of the order mainstay who should deliver RBI’s for years to come (under contract through 2016 plus an option year — at bargain bin prices no less) without the pitfalls that typically come with most backstops. He strikes me as the next-gen AJ Pierzynski — that is, a guy who should contribute nicely in at four categories, is relatively inexpensive, and hey, might even run given the opportunity.
Looking forward, Steamer has Lucroy down for a .280/.337/.439 line with 14 home runs, 57 runs, 63 RBI, and five swipes in 496 plate appearances. So if he can replicate the 580 plate appearances he had this season, they’re essentially saying he’ll be the same guy he was in 2013. And I think that’s pretty safe.
Entering his age 27 season, I’m not sure there’s any reason to be pessimistic about his playing time nor his production. There’s nothing in his plate discipline or hit trajectory that resembles trouble, his average distance on home runs was over 400 feet and his BABIP was .290 in 2013 where his career average was .306. For what it’s worth, players that had a 22% line drive rate or better (Lucroy was at 23% in 2013) averaged a .323 BABIP. Just for due diligence, his average distance on fly balls and home runs lost about five feet from 2012, which is probably just statistical noise. In sum, you should roster him with confidence that you have a very good, but perhaps not great, fantasy catcher.
*Sometimes we get it right and sometimes we don’t. But the day that post published, Lucroy went 5-5 with two home runs and four RBI. Hey, at least it posted before the game.
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