Injuries, Strikeouts Damper Jonathan Lucroy’s Season

In the majority of fantasy leagues, Jonathan Lucroy was likely valued as a top five catcher. His strong batting average, respectable power, and best of all, consistently high plate appearance totals, made him a top option at the position. But as the books closed on the 2015 season, Lucroy finished just 12th, the last man to accrue any value in 12-team mixed leagues that start just one backstop. We’re used to catchers disappointing, which is why many fantasy owners choose to “punt” the position and just go cheap, refusing to pay the market rates for the elite. So let’s find out what went wrong.

With just about two weeks of the season played, Lucroy suffered a broken toe, which knocked him out for nearly a month and a half. While it’s impossible to say exactly how or whether his injury affected his performance upon his return, there’s always that possibility. He then missed nearly three weeks with a concussion in mid-September, ensuring his season ended on a down note, in which he posted his lowest wOBA since 2011.

So we could probably point to the injuries to at least partially explain Lucroy’s mediocre performance at the plate. But there were two specific statistical issues that make up the rest of the explanation, whether the injuries played a role or not.

First, Lucroy posted his highest SwStk% since 2011, though high for him would be dreamy for many others. Those extra swings and misses resulted in his second highest strikeout rate. Those additional strikeouts hurt his batting average and his home run total. Obviously, if he’s not making contact, there’s a 0% chance the pitch eventually lands on the other side of the wall. His decline in making contact was due entirely to a drop in O-Contact%. Though it remained well above the league average, it still fell quite significantly from last year.

Next is Lucroy’s loss of power. Or apparent loss of power. His ISO dropped well below the league average and sat at an almost identical mark to his 2011 season. But just stating that he lost power doesn’t explain what actually happened. I would actually argue that he didn’t lose any power at all. In fact, his batted ball distance was identical to last year, sitting in the mid-280 range and right around the marks he has always posted.

The culprit is a sudden penchant for that darned line drive and a bunch more grounders. That’s right, that meant fewer fly balls. His line drive rate represented a new career high, as did his ground ball rate. As a result, his fly ball rate dropped precipitously, to below 30% for the first time. Fewer fly balls meant fewer opportunities for his balls to leap over the fence. And although his batted ball distance hasn’t changed all that much since 2010, his HR/FB rates have dropped to the 7% to 8% range since settling into the low double digits from 2011 to 2013.

Perhaps it’s because he sprays the ball to all fields and sports a lower than average Pull% that his HR/FB rate haven’t necessarily been as high as we might expect. This year, that pull rate was the lowest of his career. His batted ball profile is great for BABIP, not so much for power. Speaking of BABIP, he would seem to have deserved a better than .297 mark, which was just barely below the league average. He’s not a sloth on the bases, hit a ton of liners, posted a below average IFFB% and FB% and very balanced Pull/Center/Oppo percentages.

He remains on the good side of 30, though not for much longer, is coming off a disappointing year, and contributes fantasy value in a way that is often undervalued. He doesn’t bring elite power potential, but earns his value through a good batting average and lots of playing time. I’m less concerned about the strikeout rate jump due to the fact that it’s an O-Contact% issue, rather than a Z-Contact% one. If he could avoid the injury bug and the concussion doesn’t plague him, he should rebound.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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8 years ago

Lucroy was no lower than #2 at C coming into the year. It was him and Posey. Top 5 in just inaccurate. Remember the MVP candidate from 2014? He was a huge miss for the experts last year, although I haven’t read that narrative anywhere yet.