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Rockies trade for not great catcher Jonathan Lucroy to improve not good position behind the plate

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Jonathan Lucroy has been quite bad in 2017, but he’s got an impressive track record to fall back on.

The Colorado Rockies acquired catcher Jonathan Lucroy from the Texas Rangers on Sunday night for a player to be named later. We can guess the return going back to the Rangers will be minimal. More importantly in the short-term, let’s look at how Lucroy may or may not help the Rockies for the rest of the season.

So far in 2017, Lucroy is hitting .242/.297/.338 across 306 plate appearances, a wRC+ of just 66. According to Statcast data, he has been a bit unlucky. His xwOBA is .303, 19 points higher than his actual wOBA of .284. A .303 wOBA would be better, but it would also still be bad. The real concern—and what has led to his low wOBA figure—is his batted ball profile. Lucroy has the highest ground ball rate (56.2 percent) and lowest line drive (17.1 percent) and fly ball (26.7 percent) rates of his career. His average exit velocity of 85.3 mph ranks 188th out of 217 hitters who have seen at least 1,000 pitches this season.

Defensively, he rates as 15.2 runs below average according to Baseball Prospectus’s metrics, which is the worst mark in the big leagues. The biggest component of this is his pitch framing, which has been 14.5 runs worse than average; also the worst mark in the league. Put together the poor offense and defense and you have a player worth 0.2 fWAR, -0.5 bWAR, and -1.53 WARP, which ranges from pretty bad to the worst position player in the league. The dramatic difference between WARP and the others is that Baseball Prospectus accounts for pitch framing in its WARP model.

The good news with Lucroy is that, in spite of his rough performance in 2017, he has an extremely strong track record to fall back on. In the five years leading up to this one, he hit .291/.353/.465, a 121 wRC+, and rated well above average defensively. He also turned 31 less than two months ago, which makes him young enough that a bounce back is very possible.

There is more cause for optimism if you consider the Rockies current catchers: Tony Wolters and Ryan Hanigan. Consider the rest of season projections for the the three via ZiPS, Steamer, and PECOTA. Keep in mind that the batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage figures for Lucroy have yet to factor in the boost he’ll get from Coors Field:

Rockies catcher ZiPS projections

Name AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
Name AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
Jonathan Lucroy 0.265 0.327 0.405 91 0.7
Tony Wolters 0.244 0.319 0.323 51 -0.1
Ryan Hanigan 0.245 0.323 0.338 58 0

Rockies catcher Steamer projections

Name AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
Name AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
Jonathan Lucroy 0.279 0.344 0.441 106 0.8
Tony Wolters 0.250 0.329 0.355 60 0
Ryan Hanigan 0.242 0.321 0.349 61 0

Rockies catcher PECOTA projections

Name AVG OBP SLG WARP
Name AVG OBP SLG WARP
Jonathan Lucroy 0.277 0.339 0.429 1.3
Tony Wolters 0.241 0.311 0.341 0.3
Ryan Hanigan 0.253 0.336 0.351 0

No matter which projection system you view as the best of the three, it’s clear Lucroy is believed to be the best option by a rather significant amount over the remainder of the season. If Lucroy truly does help the Rockies win one extra game from here on out, it could prove to be the difference between playing the Wild Card playoff at home or on the road. If he doesn’t, the Rockies are still likely to be no worse off than they are now and will have lost very little in the way of prospects.

The addition of Jonathan Lucroy is a strong low risk, high reward move that’s ideal for a team in the Rockies’ position. So far, so good for general manager Jeff Bridich in his first trade deadline as a contender.