Jonathan Lucroy’s Ballpark Splits, Familiarity with Cubs Pitchers Offer Promise for Stretch Run

Jonathan Lucroy may no longer be the MVP candidate who terrorized the NL Central through the first half of this decade, but he may have enough left in the tank to help the Cubs win the division at the end of this season. At the very least, the 33-year-old is a cheap contingency measure to provide much-needed depth while Willson Contreras is on the DL.

Now playing with his sixth team in the last four seasons, Lucroy went from being one of the biggest trade chips of the 2016 deadline to a guy just trying to hang on. He had posted an .851 OPS with a 121 wRC+ through the first half of that final season in Milwaukee, then vetoed a trade to the World Series runners-up before being dealt to the Rangers. He finished the season strong, then fell off in 2017 and was traded to Colorado at the deadline.

The Coors Effect help Lucroy build back enough value to land a one-year, $6.5 million deal with Oakland, but he struggled to a 70 wRC+ with a .616 OPS in 2018. Making matters worse was the erosion of his defensive prowess, highlighted by a -4.1 framing runs mark that ranked 79th in MLB among catchers with at least 50 innings. Runners stole 72 bases against him and he committed 10 errors, both worst in the AL.

Things haven’t gotten much better this season, as Lucroy’s -5.0 framing runs rank 71st among 83 catchers with at least 50 innings. Runners have also stolen 42 bases in 57 attempts over the course of his 61 starts behind the plate, which doesn’t bode well for a Cubs staff that isn’t always the best at limiting steals.

Ah, but there is a glimmer of hope when it comes to Lucroy’s familiarity with his new battery-mates. Per Tony Andracki of NBC Sports Chicago, the catcher has at least 100 innings of experience with Cole Hamels (111 IP), Yu Darvish (129.1 IP) and Brandon Kintzler (132.1 IP).

Lucroy has also worked a lot with lefty Derek Holland, who was a starter with the Rangers in 2016.

“He’s a great catcher,” Holland said Wednesday. “He’s done a great job of getting the low target, keeping the ball down and a great job of controlling the game-calling. He’s a good clubhouse guy, too. He’s going to bring a lot to the table.”

Even if that comfort level helps to mitigate what has been objectively awful defense over the last two seasons or more, Lucroy is going to need to provide value with the bat. But he has failed to produce anything even close to league-average offensive output in the last three seasons, so where does that leave the Cubs?

Well, there is an outside chance that the Cubs’ opponents and their locations over the remainder of the season could spur something of a rebirth for the grizzled backstop. With a division-heavy schedule that also features a tour through the NL East and an incongruous trip to San Diego, Lucroy’s career results offer a promising look at what he can provide.

If, that is, he can recapture some of that old magic that led to a 1.318 OPS in 77 plate appearances at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia. Maybe a return to his old stomping grounds in Milwaukee shakes something loose as well. Joe Maddon may want to consider giving Victor Caratini all four starts against the Padres, though.

Again, we’re talking about a very different baseball player from the one most Cubs fans remember. That’s important to note, as is the fact that the Cubs didn’t sign Lucroy to be some sort of savior. Say what you will about their lightning-in-a-bottle track record this season, but there’s ample reason to believe Lucroy is a bounceback candidate who can empty the tank now that’s back in the NL Central with a contender.

If nothing else, he’s a guy who’s been around the block and knows many of the players in his new clubhouse. Who knows, maybe he’ll even be David Ross Light down the stretch.

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