Few players have exceeded expectations more than Jonathan Lucroy. At age-24, Lucroy was forced into a full-time role with the Milwaukee Brewers. It showed, as Lucroy’s posted a .282 wOBA. Things improved slightly in year-two, but it was starting to look like Lucroy was a stop-gap defensive catcher. But something changed in 2012. Lucroy exploded out of the gate, hitting .320/.368/.513 before a broken hand prematurely ended his season. While there were some questions about Lucroy’s ability to continue playing at that level, he’s quieted the doubters this season. He’s managed to turn himself into one of the best all-around catchers in the game.
Over the past two years, Lucroy has posted the fourth highest wOBA among catchers with at least 700 plate appearances. That’s a staggering difference from his first two seasons, when Lucroy’s .299 wOBA rated last among catchers with 700 plate appearances. After a rough start to his career, Lucroy’s .333 wOBA has put him in the company of some mixed offensive catchers. Are any of those players good comps for Lucroy?
Interestingly, Nokes is the only guy on the list to receive a full-time role before turning 24. Gedman had the most experience, seeing part-time work during his age-22 and age-23 seasons, before receiving nearly 500 plate appearances at age-24. They could all be considered late-bloomers. Davis and Nokes didn’t really seem a gradual jump in their offensive performance like Lucroy. Both turned in a few outlier-type seasons before reverting back to their normal offensive output. Davis put up a .347 wOBA at age-28, but dropped right back to .319 the following year. Nokes exploded for a .376 wOBA at age-23, and never came close to those heights again.
Gedman and Kennedy did see a gradual improvement in their offensive performance around the same time as Lucroy, but neither was able to sustain that output. Gedman peacked for two seasons before reverting to a below-average offensive performance. Kennedy had one big year at age-26, slightly dropped the following year, and was unplayable after that. Both Gedman and Kennedy were cooked by the time they reached their age-28 seasons, and Nokes stopped being used as a full-time player at age-29. Davis was the most successful of the bunch, remaining in a full-time role through his age-30 season.
There’s at least some hope Lucroy won’t suffer a similar fate. None of the catchers on the list were able to put together two consecutive offensive years as strong as Lucroy’s last two seasons. And while Lucroy’s 2012 was somewhat fluky, he’s showing signs of an improving player. The walk rate is up, the strikeout are down and his power is increasing. The historical trends may not bode well for Lucroy sustaining this level of performance for much longer, but there’s some hope that he’ll be the outlier here.
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