It’s a new year, and that means a new fantasy baseball season is upon. As part of our weekly positional series, I’ll be putting together the Tales of the Tape every Tuesday. If you’re new to the site this year or just forget what this is, it’s simply a category-by-category breakdown of two players who are close together in our positional rankings. This week, I’ll be pitting Jonathan Lucroy against Travis d’Arnaud. Both players had disappointing 2015s — but for different reasons — and finished the year in the bottom of the top-20 among catchers on ESPN’s Player Rater. Both will be looking for bounce-back years in 2016.
In 2015, Lucroy and d’Arnaud were extremely close in this category, with the former hitting .264 and the latter finishing with a .268 AVG. However, prior to last season these two were polar opposites in this regard. Heading into 2015, Lucroy was coming off of three consecutive seasons with an AVG of at least .280, topping the .300 mark twice. His decline last season was mostly due to his typically impeccable strikeout rate rising up above 15 percent. What’s particularly troubling is the fact that he saw a large rise in his swinging strike rate, especially on pitches out of the zone. d’Arnaud, meanwhile, had been a relatively high-AVG hitter in the minors, but that hasn’t translated to the majors at all. In fact, his .268 mark in 2015 was the highest of his short career. Last year was his first with a close-to-average BABIP, and he still couldn’t excel here. There’s certainly a chance this is the year d’Arnaud can put it all together and flirt with .300, but I’m much more comfortable betting on the guy who has done it before, and recently.
While these two catchers’ AVGs were extremely close in 2015, d’Arnaud had a larger advantage over Lucroy away in OBP, besting him .340 to .326. It’s a strange gap, considering their AVGs and walk rates were both extremely close. The disparity in sample size — Lucroy had 147 more plate appearances — and a couple of extra HBPs for D’Arnaud made the difference. Both have had inconsistent walk rates over their careers, with D’Arnaud coming away with a slightly higher career mark. I think he winds up with a few more free passes next year, but not enough to overcome Lucroy’s advantage in AVG.
It’s really hard to find power behind the plate, so being able to get home run production from this position can be a big advantage. Luckily, this matchup is pretty easy to call. In 2015, d’Arnaud finished the year with more long balls despite the large playing time advantage for Lucroy. The Mets backstop showed impressive power last year, hitting 12 homers in just 67 games and finishing the year with a .218 ISO. There was a bit of an inflated HR:FB ratio, but he’s flashed power in the minors before and should be able to carry a chunk of that production into next year. While Lucroy certainly has the home park advantage, he’s never been more than an average home run hitter, instead relying on doubles to boost his power numbers. This is a relatively easy win for d’Arnaud.
This should be another easy call. The two were pretty much even last year — Lucroy had two more RBI — but again, there was a large playing time disparity. If d’Arnaud can stay healthy for most of the year, he should get a lot more RBI chances in the Mets’ lineup than Lucroy will in the Brewers’. The former will be able to hit behind guys like Neil Walker, Curtis Granderson, David Wright and Lucas Duda. The latter will be near the top of a bad lineup, having to knock in the bottom of a well below-average lineup. The one positive for Lucroy is the fact that he could be traded before the season starts, or even in the middle of the year. That will help him tremendously, especially with his propensity for doubles, but we don’t know if/when that will happen or what team he’ll go to. With d’Arnaud’s lineup advantage as well as his superior power, he’s the easy call.
Despite the Mets’ better offense discussed in the last category, this one should be a little bit closer due to where each player is slotted in their lineup. d’Arnaud is going to be hitting in front of the bottom of New York’s lineup. If Michael Conforto takes a step forward this year, it should be a big help, but likely not enough for d’Arnaud. Lucroy, on the other hand, at least gets to hit in front of some real power bats in Ryan Braun, Chris Carter, and Khris Davis. This, combined with his advantage in OBP, is enough to give him the edge here despite being a part of the poorer offense overall.
You’re not looking to catchers for your stolen base help, so we’ll make this quick. Lucroy stole one base last season, which was still enough to win this matchup. D’Arnaud has one stolen base in his entire career, while Lucroy has at least swiped multiple bags in every season besides 2015. He’s a better bet to do it again in 2016, but honestly, who cares?
While both of these players were affected by injuries in 2015, d’Arnaud has been affected by them for his entire major-league career. In 2013, he missed significant time with a foot injury. In 2014, it was a concussion, and last season it was injuries to his elbow and his finger. It’s hard to bet on him to stay healthy at this point. That’s not to say there’s not risk with Lucroy, however. He’s going to be in his age-30 season, and started to show the wear-and-tear of an older catcher last year, missing time with concussion issues and a toe injury. The age, past playing time and recent injury history isn’t enough to lose out to d’Arnaud in this one, though.
Catchers are always at risk for days off more than your typical fantasy player, and these two are no exception. It’s hard to say exactly what will happen with Lucroy, since we don’t know that he’ll be a Brewer come Opening Day. Assuming he is, it’s hard to see him sitting too much. Milwaukee doesn’t have a real threat behind him, and they’ll want to boost his trade value. The Mets, meanwhile, have already indicated they’ll be splitting time between D’Arnaud and Kevin Plawecki. That should help keep the former healthy, but he’ll also be playing in a smaller percentage of his healthy games. As long as he’s on the Brewers, Lucroy has the advantage here.
Both players have solid ceilings, which is great at a position where that’s hard to find. The good thing for Lucroy is we’ve already seen his, and it wasn’t that long ago. He was incredible in 2014 and finished as the no. 2 fantasy catcher. d’Arnaud, on the other hand, is more of an unknown. If he reaches his absolute peak potential, however, he can be a monster. A version of him that stays healthy, maintains his 2015 power and gets his average close to .300 isn’t totally implausible and would be almost unmatched in value behind the plate. They both have similar AVG and OBP ceilings, but d’Arnaud’s power potential outweighs Lucroy’s in this case.
Both d’Arnaud and Lucroy have their own strengths heading into 2016, which makes them hard to peg moving forward. Lucroy will help more in AVG and OBP, and is likely the safer choice. D’Arnaud has more power, though, and a higher ceiling. With that said, Lucroy won this matchup 6-3, and his advantages are big enough to give him the overall win, especially with the consideration that he could be in a much better lineup at some point in 2016.
And the winner is… Jonathan Lucroy