Last season Jonathan Lucroy was one of the front runners for the National League MVP award. Aside from his usual defensive prowess, he got on base at a great rate and showed a tremendous amount of gap power. When it was all said and done, Lucroy finished with the ninth-best WAR in Major League Baseball, and I was sure he was going to follow that up with another phenomenal season (projected 4.6 WAR).
But now, at the midway point of August in 2015, Lucroy has been no better than a replacement player. His WAR sits at 0.1 and his on-base percentage is reminiscent of Yuniesky Betancourt‘s. His isolated power is down 58 points, and instead of being an above-average hitter in terms of creating runs, Lucroy’s wRC+ is down in the gutters at 78. He’s gone from a major threat at the plate to a player who’s no threat at all.
So what’s happened? First, let’s compare his batted ball profile in 2014 to his profile this season.
Lucroy is hitting more line drives and less fly balls, and for someone who doesn’t have much home run power, that’s obviously a good thing. But his ground ball rate has soared, and that’s something that needs to be talked about.
Part of the reason Lucroy’s offense is struggling is because he’s hitting a lot more ground balls than he did in 2014 and is having way worse luck on those ground balls. Last season, Lucroy hit .258 when he put the ball on the ground, while the rest of the averaged just a .239 mark. In other words, Lucroy overachieved on grounders. This year, not so much, as his groundball BABIP is at a lowly .155. League average, by the way, is .234. As a result, Lucroy’s overall BABIP of .267 is the seventh-lowest mark among National League hitters (min. 300 PA). To sum up, Lucroy had great luck a year ago, but is enduring a season of rotten lock in 2015.
His loss of power is also quite astonishing. He ripped 53 doubles last season, but has only 14 to his name after 311 at-bats. Now, obviously there was no way Lucroy was going to duplicate 53 doubles again, but to have only 14 is a bit surprising. This can probably be explained by his inability to hit the fastball, something that wasn’t the case last year.
Lucroy has seen 544 four-seam fastballs this season, and is hitting .250 with an isolated power of .095 on those pitches. During his MVP-caliber year, however, he hit .324 with an isolated power of .229. Twenty-five of his 53 doubles came off the four-seamer. This year he has just three.
The Brewers catcher is nowhere near the same hitter he was last season because he’s putting a career-high number of balls on the ground and because he’s having a tough time making good contact with the fastball. Both of these things are correctable, but as Milwaukee starts to rebuild, Lucroy may find himself correcting his issues on a different team.