Jonathan Lucroy: Will Work for Luck

Chances are many of you drafted Jonathan Lucroy to be your regular backstop this season. Chances are most of you don’t use him as your regular backstop anymore — and if you do, you probably don’t want to. The question, of course, is whether anyone should rely on him to contribute to their fantasy team from here on out because Lucroy kind of dangles in the purgatory as a guy people are loath to cut but nobody probably wants to trade for.

If you targeted Lucroy, you probably did so with the idea that he wasn’t going to dazzle in traditional counting stats, but he would hit for plus average and at least provide average production in each of typical 5×5 categories. Heck, he even might steal a half dozen bags. His original Steamer projection predicted a .269/.328/.413 campaign with 11 HR, 44 runs, 48 RBI and four steals over 418 plate appearances. That’s not thrilling, but it allows you to plug him in, throw your hands in the air, and walk away from the catcher conundrum.

But so far, Lucroy has produced three home runs, 11 runs, and 20 RBI while hitting .229/.286/.333. The RBI have been nice, but only seven of them have come in May as he’s been steadily moved down the order from 4th to 6th in recent days. His ownership is down to 27% in ESPN and 40% in Yahoo, so he’s now fairly widely available.

So what gives?

One of the first things that jump out at you is his BABIP, which currently sits at .237. In 2012, it was .338, so this could be good old fashioned what goes up must come down. But as the venerable JP Breen noted in his FG+ capsule on Lucroy, that figure was held up in large part due to his prolific line drive hitting and Lucroy has a career .315 BABIP to begin with.

So how about this hit trajectory thingy. Here’s his 2013 against his career figures:

2013 1.14 20.10% 42.50% 37.30% 6.00%
Career 1.16 21.50% 42.20% 36.30% 8.80%

Huh. So a small dip in line drive rate but there’s no smoking gun in here whatsoever. In fact, based on this current hit trajectory, expected BABIP predicts a .334 rate. If I’m a betting man, and I guess I have to be to be playing this ridiculous game, I’d put my money on that batting average creeping up in the coming weeks and a few more balls leaving the yard based on that HR/FB rate.

But being a Rotographs reader, you’re obviously nitpicky as hell smarter than your average bear. So let’s investigate contact rates. This isn’t quantum physics here, you can see this for yourself on his player page, but I like to think there’s something kind of handy about having it presented with narrative. If you don’t like narrative, well, fiddlesticks.

Season O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% F-Strike% SwStr%
2012 33.60% 61.50% 46.80% 77.80% 93.60% 87.60% 47.20% 55.20% 5.60%
2013 28.40% 59.60% 43.00% 80.20% 95.50% 90.10% 46.80% 57.10% 4.40%
Career 32.50% 59.80% 45.60% 74.90% 92.40% 86.00% 48.10% 57.70% 6.20%

So Lucroy is actually swinging at fewer balls outside the zone than his breakout 2012 and career rates. When he does swing outside the zone, he’s making more contact. His overall contact rates are career highs and he’s swinging and missing less. Honestly, if you would have shown me these figures before the season started, I would have assumed he’d be having a terrific season.

One interesting thing to note is his power. Last year, he had an ISO of .193. His career rate is .130, but coming in to his age-27 year, most predictions would have been maintenance of that ISO if not an uptick. So far, his power has been pretty absent. Or at least very tardy. Looking over at Zimm’s, the distance on his fly balls and home runs in 2012 was 294 feet. In 2013, it has been just 281. It almost makes you wonder if he’s been playing hurt, but I’m not a medical doctor nor do I play one on television.

Last little nugget I’ll leave you with are his splits on pulled balls versus those hit to center and right field. In his career, Lucroy has murdered the ball when he got out in front of it, that is, when he pulled it — producing a .365/.362/.605 slash line over 339 career plate appearances (when pulling the ball, that is). This year? .170/.170/.277. According to, the NL League average BABIP for pulled balls by right handed batters is .339. For Lucroy this season, it has been .156 (hat tip, JP Breen).

So to summarize, Jonathan Lucroy was very good in 2012. He has been very bad in 2013. Much of it seems like horrific luck, and in fact his plate discipline has been quite good, even better than his career rates. But then again, he’s not hitting for much in the way of power at all. I’m of the opinion that this is all about to change — that Lucroy will start to see the proverbial pendulum swing and he’ll be squaring up balls that find gaps in bunches. But should you go out and try to buy low on Lucroy, prepare for the fact that he might not break double digits in home runs, but he could very well hit .290 from here on out, making him a roll o the dice in 5×5 leagues should you need help in that particular category.

Thanks to Howard Bender for graciously tacitly callously allowing me to write about a catcher. You are a darling man, you bearded hunk.

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Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.

28 Responses to “Jonathan Lucroy: Will Work for Luck”

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  1. Adam says:

    But being a Rotographs reader, you’re obviously smarter than you’re average bear

    Smart enough to know it should be “your” average bear. Being smart means you can nitpick.


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    • well, that might be it. Alternatively, he might have meant to write: “But being a Rotographs reader, you’re obviously smarter THEN you’re average bear”, referring to the fact that many rotographs readers are intelligent in the morning and ursine in the evening.

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      • Blastings! says:

        Because bears, on average, are smarter than humans; hence a smarter human– the kind who reads Fangraphs– is only, on becoming ursine, an average bear.

        Well, I think this horse has had enough. Meat and glue for everyone.

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    • Michael Barr says:

      gah, the worst. Thanks. Fixed.

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  2. Greg says:

    I currently have the option of the following catchers: Lucroy, Perez, Castro, or Doumit. Who do you like better for the ROS in a head-head league?

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    • Captain Obvious says:

      Ah, yes. A complimentary link for dementia patients.

      “Where am I?”
      “Oh, yes, here I am!”

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  3. Ryan says:

    Wow, nice timing Mr. Barr. Been keeping this eyesore in my lineup since day one…about time!

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  4. Clark Westerfield says:

    5 hits, 2 HR on 5/31/13

    Thanks Michael! I look forward to upcoming articles on the unlucky struggles of Rickie Weeks, Wily Peralta, John Axford, and Yovani Gallardo. By tomorrow, please. Monday at the latest.

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  5. mikeincmn says:

    Lucroy or AJ Pierzynski in a 12 team head to head?

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  6. troy says:

    Lucroy or Grandson rest of season?

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  7. Teez says:

    I’m got the option of Montero, Lucroy or Martin, unsure which to pick.

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    • Michael Barr says:

      Montero and Lucroy should be really similar ROS. I worry that Martin’s BA will start to be a drag soon. But all three should be in the 8-10 HR range ROS with 35/35 runs/rbi. Right now, Lucroy is the hot bat, so maybe you just stick with him.

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  8. Andrew says:

    Lucroy, Grandal, or M. Montero for the rest of the season?

    5×5 h2h

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  9. FillyP says:

    I’m currently running Pierzynski in a 12t H2H 7×7 (OBP/XBH) league. Would you rather run Lucroy, Perez, Arencibia, Doumit.. or hold steady with AJ? Got to admit, Lucroy is tempting me. Thanks!

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    • Michael Barr says:

      toughie. I think above I said I’d lean Lucroy over AJ, but it might be irrationality based on the last several days. They should look pretty similar ROS. Arencibia will murder you w/OBA. I can’t make heads or tails out of Perez. Good luck -

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      • FillyP says:

        Haha, thanks for the honesty! That’s exactly where I am. Started off the season with J. Montero, but rode JP’s hot streak in May. I got fed up with him destroying my AVG/OBP. Thinking about running Lucroy while he’s hot..

        Also, it is a keeper league (only 3 bats max) – which makes Perez/Lucroy slightly more attractive than AJ.

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