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Projection Review: Catcher [[ :) ]] and First Base [[ :( ]]

There are two positions left to review in the projection series. Predictably, one turned out great, and one didn't.

Lance Iversen-USA TODAY Sports

In the past couple of weeks I have been slowly working my way through the preseason projections review series. So far I've gone back through the rotation and outfield (Part 1Part 2Part 3, and Part 4). Back in February and March I called an over or under on each player's ZiPS line. The original post on catcher and first base is right here.

Jonathan Lucroy

Lucroy PA Average On-base Slugging Wins
ZiPS 506 .273 .331 .437 3.4
Actual 655 .301 .373 .465 6.3

In March I raved about Doug Melvin locking up Lucroy at a bargain price.

Fangraphs just began doing power rankings of each position across baseball, and the Brewers check in at 9th in the catcher department. If that seems low, it's because they do not include pitch framing in their defense calculation even though a lot of research has indicated that it is a very big deal, and that Lucroy is very good at it. The author, Jeff Sullivan, does not say exactly how high the rank would jump if it were to be included but says it would be "near the top". If we were having a catcher draft and I had the number 2 pick after Posey, I think I would be inclined to take Lucroy...

[I'll take the] over by tiny bit. Lucroy hit better than that line in both his fluke-injury shortened 2012 and his stellar 2013. I don't really expect him to make big improvements at this point in his career, but I don't expect him to get worse either.

I've never been happier about having low expectations. Lucroy is a legitimate MVP contender and was almost certainly one of the 5 best position players in the National League this year. He is an elite defender and took a surprisingly big step forward in offensive production when he was at a stage of his career where it would have been tough to predict big improvement. You can't expect him to go up from here, but a few more prime years of this level of production would be incredibly huge. And he's locked up through the next 3 years at $3 million, $4 million, and a $5.25 million club option.

First Base

1B Options Average On-base Slugging
Overbay ZiPs .245 .300 .401
Overbay Actual .233 .328 .333
Reynolds ZiPS .234 .335 .475
Reynolds Actual .196 .287 .394
Francisco ZiPS .246 .295 .465
Francisco Actual .220 .291 .456

What a predictable debacle:

I cannot imagine that there is any way they keep 3 first basemen on the roster and I cannot imagine them keeping two lefties, and considering Reynolds has not really done anything to disqualify himself I think we can pencil him in. Look at that ZiPS projection below for Reynolds! The funny thing about him, though, is that ZiPS sees his defense as being so bad that even with that fairly excellent line, something he hasn't approached since 2011, he's still a below-average player overall.

People will complain, but Francisco is basically the only thing representing any upside here. Basically we have three players who look to be pretty close to what we call replacement level-- but after last year's debacle, even finding moderately competent replacement-level players will be a fairly significant upgrade. I would be very tempted to just let the Reynolds/Francisco Strikeout Record Experiment get underway and see what happens. But here's the good news: if the Brewers do find themselves in contention near the trade deadline, there's a pretty obvious spot to look to upgrade with a rental!

Over/under: Just, under, regardless.

First, let's be clear: The Brewers were much improved this year by starting Mark Reynolds and Lyle Overbay most games at 1st Base. That's due to the incredible hole they dug in 2013 by using poor-hitting shortstops like Alex Gonzalez and Yuniesky Betancourt there most days. By finding mediocre replacement level players who actually know how to play the position, the Brewers improved by at least a few wins this year.

That doesn't mean the soft first base platoon was a success. Overbay and Reynolds basically combined for a replacement-level batting line. Oddly enough, most of the value derived from that position came from the quality defense played by Reynolds. He showed himself to be a capable enough corner infield backup. But if the Brewers are again relying on Reynolds and an as-yet unkown new veteran lefty with no pop to man first base again in 2015, something has gone terribly wrong.