From 2012 through 2016, Jonathan Lucroy was one of the best catchers in baseball. His 19 WAR during that time was second only to Buster Posey, and that figure likely underrates Lucroy, as his framing numbers made him even more valuable; Baseball Prospectus’ catcher defensive metrics have him being worth 85.5 framing runs over that span, though his value declined precipitously beginning in 2015. Since leaving the Brewers (and turning 30 years old), Lucroy has not been the same player on offense or defense. In 2017, he put up an 81 wRC+ and had to settle for a one-year, $6.5 million contract with the A’s. Last year, Lucroy got worse at the plate, posting a 70 wRC+, and now he has had to settle for a one-year deal worth $3.35 million with the Angels.
In their deal, the Angels are paying Lucroy like a player who put up 1.1 WAR in 2017 and followed it with 0.6 WAR last season. The projections still hold out a bit more hope that the 4.6 WAR season from 2016, and the very good seasons preceding it, are not a too-distant memory. Below is a the breakdown of Lucroy in his 20s and 30s, and his projection for next season.
Is there a reason for the optimism in the projections? Last year, Jeff Sullivan, who recapped Lucroy’s apparent framing demise, noted that Lucroy appeared to have sacrificed some power for contact, but simply ended up hitting a lot more ground balls. Last season, he went back to his typical batted ball approach, with fly ball and ground ball rates approaching his career norms. He also went back to striking out at a rate much closer to his career norms. Unfortunately, his walk rate went down and his power numbers were even worse, with a sub-.100 ISO. His Statcast numbers aren’t much help and his xWOBA hasn’t been too terribly out of line with his hitting numbers. At a time when pitchers are throwing more and more breaking and offspeed pitches, Lucroy has seen more fastballs the past two years. He’s also seeing more pitches in the strike zone. Pitchers are telling Lucroy with their pitches that he has gotten worse, and he has yet to respond.