Jonathan Lucroy is probably the Brewers most interesting player right now. He's been a part of trade rumors ever since the rebuild began last year at the non-waiver trade deadline. He hasn't been trade though, and there is a chance he doesn't get traded until the upcoming non-waiver trade deadline. The problem seems to center around his uncharacteristically poor production in 2015 and probably the concussion he suffered at the end of the season. But I think that's more a bargaining tactic by teams looking to buy, than a real concern. I don't think anyone truly believes Lucroy isn't a 3-4 win catcher anymore. And at the very least, Dan Szymborski's (@DSzymborski) projection system (ZiPS) agrees.
ZiPS has Lucroy projected for a 3.3 WAR season. That's not as good as his epic 2014 season when he accumulated a whopping 6.4 fWAR. But it is right in line with his WAR from the previous two seasons: 3.5 and 3.3. I believe, had he not been injured, Lucroy would have been worth something similar last year.
We've talked a lot about his season here on BCB, so I won't spend too much time discussing it now. But I'll give you the short version. His season stat line--103 game, 415 PA, 264/326/391, 1.1 fWAR--was a career worst in a full season. But it's skewed by a poor start--possibly, maybe likely, related to missing most of spring training with a hamstring injury in addition to breaking his foot in late April--and he actually hit close to normal when he returned from the DL: 282/340/430, 105 wRC+ from June 1 to the end of his season.
The power didn't come back all the way, but that's a pretty darn good slash line. And if you don't think so, consider the following. The league average slash line for a catcher in 2015 was 238/302/376 (85 wRC+). Among qualified catchers in 2015, Lucroy's 93 wRC+ would have ranked 7th in baseball. His 105 from June 1 onward would have been tied for 5th. So even his offensive production in a down year would have ranked him around the middle of the top ten. I don't think it's crazy to believe Lucroy can do better than a 105 wRC+ in a healthy season.
"If healthy" isn't an insignificant qualifier though. He ended the season on a sour note with a concussion. He did come back a bit to play some first base, but if I recall correctly they ultimately just shut him down. Concussions are a big deal and the traditional thinking is that catchers are at a larger risk. I still believe that's true--they certainly take a lot of foul balls off their masks during the season--but I wonder if the risk has been somewhat mitigated in recent years because of the Buster Posey rule.
Collisions at home plate are no longer a part of baseball. That's a huge contributing factor to concussions that's been eliminated. So yeah, Lucroy is certainly at more risk of getting a concussion than say, a center fielder. However, Lucroy--and any catcher today--is at less of a risk than Joe Mauer.
His is a name I hear a lot in connection with Lucroy these days. Mauer's career took a tragic downward spiral after he suffered a couple of concussions. The fear has been that Lucroy is potentially on the same track should he suffer another concussion. He might be. There is still a window of up to a year after the initial concussion--opening day will mark seven months--that he's at a higher risk of suffering another, but I think the chances that happens aren't nearly as high as some of us fear.
Anyway, none of this should be misconstrued as an argument that Lucroy will be traded before opening day. I think it's a strong possibility. I just wanted to readdress some of the concerns about his 2015 season and his concussion. Oh, and if you're wondering what the connection with the opening day countdown is, ZiPS projects Lucroy to get 56 runs. I know, it has little to do with what I discuss. But cut me some slack! It's a lot of articles to write.