On Sunday night, the Colorado Rockies acquired catcher Jonathan Lucroy from the Texas Rangers for a player to be named later.
The trade comes almost exactly a year to the day after the Rangers acquired Lucroy, along with Jeremy Jeffress, from the Milwaukee Brewers for Lewis Brinson, Luis Ortiz, and a player to be named later (Ryan Cordell). Lucroy was acquired first and foremost for the Rangers' pennant run in 2016, but also for their presumed playoff push in 2017.
Things haven't gone as planned in Arlington, however. The Rangers find themselves four games under .500, 5.5 games back of the second wild-card, and sellers at the deadline.
On the flip side, everything has gone right for the Rockies so far in 2017. They have a strong hold on the second wild-card spot in the National League, 5.5 games ahead of the Brewers and just 0.5 games back of the Arizona Diamondbacks for the first wild-card spot.
Most experts outside the Rockies organization were skeptical of the team’s playoff odds before the season. According to FanGraphs, the Rockies playoff odds on April 2nd, were just 9.6 percent. As of July 29th, they are 71.5 percent.
With the trade, the Rockies have tried to fill their biggest hole. Their catching unit — made up of a combination of Tony Wolters, Ryan Hanigan, Dustin Garneau, and Tom Murphy — has been worth -0.6 fWAR, the worst in baseball. The question is what exactly are the Rockies getting out of Jonathan Lucroy.
Since his debut 2010 season, Lucroy has been the fourth-most valuable catcher in the league, behind Buster Posey, Yadier Molina, and Russell Martin. He is coming off a 2016 season in which he hit a career-high 24 home runs and was worth 4.5 fWAR. If you use Baseball Prospectus’s version of WAR, which includes framing, he was even better, at 5.4 WARP.
Lucroy's 2017 has been a different story. He has been worth just 0.2 fWAR (and -1.5 WARP). He's hit just four home runs and has an OPS of just .635. If he keeps up this pace, it would be by far the worst season of his career.
Why Lucroy is struggling offensively and behind the plate is anyone's guess. He has the lowest strikeout rate of his career at 10.5 percent, but also the lowest walk rate of his career aside from his rookie season at 6.2 percent.
He is making contact on 89.2 percent of his swings. His swinging strike percentage is ninth-lowest in the league among those with over 100 plate appearances at 4.8 percent. He is making by far more contact than at any point in his career. For most, this would be a good thing. For Lucroy, it has resulted in the worst offensive season in his career.
He has stopped putting the ball in the air. His ground ball rate is 56.2 percent, eighth-highest among those with 300 plate appearances. He has never posted a ground ball rate over 44.7 percent over a full season. His line drive rate is the lowest of his career at 17.1 percent, and while hitters around the league are boosting their fly ball rate and watching their power numbers soar, Lucroy's fly ball rate has plummeted 12 percentage points below the 38.7 percent mark he posted last season.
Not only have Lucroy's offensive numbers taken a dive, but his defensive numbers have not looked great either. According to Baseball Prospectus's fielding runs above average metric, Lucroy has been the worst defensive catcher in baseball among 85 qualified catchers, after finishing as the sixth-best defensive catcher in 2016. It’s not just his framing, either; according to FanGraphs, he has been worth -5 defensive runs saved, which tracks the non-framing aspects of catcher defense, and that’s the worst mark of his career.
The Rockies are making a bet on Lucroy returning to something resembling his former self. Although his season thus far doesn't leave much room for optimism, he has the track record which obviously gave at least one front office some confidence in him. And while we don’t know who exactly the player to be named later is, it seems clear that Lucroy’s struggles have kept his trade price down.
Maybe a change a scenery was needed for the veteran catcher. There is no better place to hit than Coors Field. If Lucroy can get back on track and become the all-round catcher he was just last summer, watch out for the Colorado Rockies come October.
Dylan Svoboda is a writer for Beyond The Box Score and BP Milwaukee. You can follow him on Twitter at @svodylan.