Thanks to the early injury suffered by Gregg Zaun – remember him? – Jon Lucroy was forced into duty about a year earlier than most expected him. Lucroy had put up solid numbers all the way from the Rookie Leagues through AA, and after Zaun’s injury, the Brewers felt comfortable installing Lucroy as the starting catcher at the young age of 24.
A big part of the reason that Lucroy is ready for the majors despite skipping AAA is his advanced defense. Lucroy probably isn’t an elite or even a great defensive catcher, but he’s shown a decent throwing arm, catching 28% of stolen base attempts. The average defensive catcher is an extremely valuable commodity, and Lucroy is looking like his defense is average to slightly above average.
To date, Jon Lucroy has a .266/.307/.351 line that really can only be described as Kendallian. Lucroy’s 81 wRC+ is right in line with the 78 and 75 wRC+ marks posted by Jason Kendall in 2007 and 2008. Right now, Lucroy’s hitting lines compare most favorably with Carlos Gomez and Alcides Escobar – not exactly great company.
Lucroy has shown good contact skills, only striking out in 15% of plate appearances, and his BABIP of .303 is basically average. The problem is that Lucroy has shown very little power and poor plate discipline. Lucroy was never a huge power threat, but he did hit 20 HRs in 2008 and 11 in 2009. The three HRs Lucroy has in 199 plate appearances is roughly in line with that 2009 mark; either way, we typically don’t learn much about a player’s power in a short season. Lucroy will probably never have above average MLB power – his swing doesn’t exactly strike me as a power stroke – but it’s far too early to say that he’ll be a singles hitter as he has been this season.
The lack of walks is far more disconcerting. Lucroy has only walked in 5% of plate appearances after walking 10% of the time in 2008 and 15% in 2009. The low walk rate makes some sense, given that Lucroy has swung at an unfathomable 40.2% of pitches out of the strike zone according to FanGraphs. That’s not quite Vlad Guerrero (46%) or Pablo Sandoval (43%) level, but it is near the top of the league. Lucroy ranks 14th in the league among players with at least 190 plate appearances, right between noted free swingers Alfonso Soriano and Yuniesky Betancourt. Soriano survives because he has crazy power, and Betancourt was the worst player in baseball in 2009. As discipline numbers tend to stabilize much quicker than power numbers, this is a legitimate concern for Lucroy.
Jon Lucroy is profiling as an average player right now: a poor hitter but a decent defensive catcher. That’s all well and good, and even at this point, we can be happy to have Jon Lucroy on the team for the foreseeable future. However, Lucroy won’t reach his full potential until he can learn to lay off some pitches out of the zone, as that should lead to both more walks and more power, as it’s just plain difficult to hit pitches out of the zone hard. Hopefully the Brewers coaches can recognize this and work to improve as the season winds down and as 2011 approaches, because thanks to his high ability to make contact, Lucroy should be able to hit at a solid level. It’s not there yet, but at age 24, Lucroy’s prime is yet to come.