There has been a lot of talk about the Brewers trading catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Really it's a matter of when not if. They aren't going to be able to compete before his contract expires after 2017 and extending him may or may not be a good idea. But that's something they can explore again when he hits free agency. Should they--or rather when they--trade him Martin Maldonado will become the top catcher in Milwaukee. That has some people queasy and I can understand why. He's not much of a hitter. But I do wonder what he could do in a full season.
Last year he was particularly bad offensively. He hit 210/282/293 which equates to a 53 wRC+. In other words, his offensive contributions were 47% worse than league average. So yeah, that's pretty bad. But his career average wRC+ is 69 (Niiiiiiiiiiice). Steamer has him projected for a slightly better 66 wRC+ in 2016 and ZiPS a slightly more rosey 71 OPS+ (similar to wRC+). Admittedly none of those numbers are all that encouraging.
But Maldonado does have two seasons (2012, 2014) where he produced a 96 and 97 wRC+. That's almost league average among all hitters and it's slightly better than league average among catchers over the last three years. It's not a sexy number, but with his defense it could add up to around 2 wins with a full season workload. I don't know that we can expect him to return to that level, but there might be some cause for optimism.
His 25.4% strike out rate isn't good, but his 9.1 walk rate was a career high. His walk rate has been trending up for three years now: 6.2% in 2013, 8.7% in 2014, 9.0% last year. That BB% is actually above league average: 7.7-7.9%. So that's one encouraging thing.
He also might have had some bad BABIP luck last year. His .272 was the second lowest of his career. He does have a .276 career BABIP, but that's being heavily skewed by his .212 from 2014. He had a .320 in 2012 and a .293 in 2014. So there is reason to believe his true average BABIP should be some degree higher.
Although it's important to realize that a low BABIP isn't always the result of random luck. Maldonado did have a career high ground ball rate last year: 46.9%. That's a very bad thing, especially give he's a slow running catcher. He also a rather high 17.9 infield fly ball rate. Again, very bad as popups are auto outs. But he also had strong 20.4% line drive rate and career high 29.3% hard hit rate. So if he can avoid hitting so many balls on the ground, it's feasible his BABIP could jump back up and his overall production along with it.
I really don't know what to expect from Martin Maldonado this coming season. I don't even know if he's going to be the back-up catcher or the starting catcher. I still think there is a strong possibility Jonathan Lucroy is moved before opening day. Should that be the case, I think there is a chance Maldonado could end up being a 2 win catcher for the Brewers. I don't know that the probability is very high, but it does exist.
Statistics courtesy of FanGraphs