For about a year now, Brewers' fans and writers have been talking about the possibility of trading Jonathan Lucroy. The fact that he is generally considered the club's most valuable trade chip has been discussed at length - including by our friends over at MLB Daily Dish, who just this week ranked Luc as the second-best trade candidate in the entire league.
I was concerned that Slingin' David Stearns and the Brewers missed their window to maximize a potential trade return for the former All-Star catcher after they chose to hold on to Lucroy throughout this past offseason and into the 2016 regular season. With a little over a month of the season now complete and just 82 days remaining until the non-waiver trade deadline, has Lucroy confirmed my consternation?
At the plate, the answer is a firm 'no.' After battling injuries and putting together his worst offensive season since 2011 last year, Luc has been one of the most productive offensive backstops in the league in 2016. He's batting an outstanding .306/.370/.472 with three home runs and seven doubles though 119 plate appearances. Though that's buoyed by a .353 BABIP that's almost certain to come down at some point, Lucroy has seen a marked increase in his line drive rate while simultaneously decreasing his ground ball rate significantly. That has helped spur an 81 point increase in slugging percentage and a 40 point increase in isolated power.
All together, it has added up to a 121 wRC+ that puts Lucroy's total offense at 21% better than league average and ranks him fourth among qualified catchers in the MLB. He's proving that his 93 wRC+ last season was more an outlier than what we should expect from him as we go forward. Defensively, though, it's been a different story.
Jonathan has long been considered one of the league's best defensive backstops. Even while he was still developing offensively early on in his career, he was still a well-above replacement level player thanks in large part to his defense and pitch framing prowess. From 2010-2014, Lucroy totaled 160 framing runs according to Baseball Prospectus. He was worth 10 Defensive Runs Saved during his 2014 season when he finished fourth in MVP voting and was runner-up for the Gold Glove award.
Those numbers began to decline sharply last season, however. In 2015 Lucroy accrued only 1.2 framing runs and -1 DRS. This lead to Julien Assouline's investigation into Luc's framing and age-curves for BP Milwaukee, which concluded that framing generally peaks around 25-26 but doesn't begin to decline sharply until around 32-33. Since Lucroy is only 29 and dealt with injuries last year, the hope was that he could improve those numbers a bit in 2016.
Unfortunately that has not been the case to this point in 2016. Lucroy has had the fifth-most framing chances in the league this season (1,764) yet ranks just t-25th with 0.5 framing runs, well behind league-leader Jason Castro with 6.8. And he's not just struggling with his framing, either.
Luc has never exactly been great at throwing out potential base stealers and he's been slightly below league average with a 30% caught stealing rate this year. But no catcher has had more stolen base attempts (33) or most successful steals (23) against them than have come against Lucroy has this season. He has accrued zero DRS so far this year, which ties him for 8th among the 17 qualified catchers. His DEF (fielding runs plus position adjustment) of -0.1 ranks ahead of only Brian McCann among qualified catchers in 2016.
Of course there are some caveats here with regards to the dependability of defensive metrics and the size of the sample. But Jonathan Lucroy's reputation as an outstanding defender behind the dish can only last for so long if the numbers aren't backing him up, and it's now been two seasons since he's been even above-average. Fortunately, his rejuvenated bat should still help bring the Brewers a sizable return when they do indeed trade Lucroy.
Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs