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Jonathan Lucroy is one of the best catchers in baseball; he’s the prototype for the modern backstop. A talented pitch-framer, Lucroy has a reputation as a tremendous defender–over the past two seasons he’s been more in line with average (0.8 CSAA) than elite, but prior to those seasons he averaged 32 CSAA per season over his first five years. (Perhaps his skill has fallen off in the past few years, but I’d hazard a guess that most of the dropoff is due to the general level of pitch framing in the league improving.)
Beyond that, Lucroy is a fine hitter for any position, but especially for a catcher. Lucroy’s .295 True Average this season is third among starting catchers, behind just Wilson Ramos and Buster Posey. A well above-average hitter, Lucroy possesses bat-to-ball skills, a solid approach, and 10-20 homer power, something teams covet from left fielders and third basemen, not just catchers. If you want to use WARP as a metric of overall value, Lucroy has actually been on something resembling a Hall-of-Fame pace, with 34.1 WARP earned over seven seasons.
It’s no wonder the Rangers had such interest in the All-Star backstop, as he helps shore up the team’s two weakest positions. First, and most critically, he provides the team with above-average production at a position they were not very good. I have all the love in the world for Robinson Chirinos, but the Rangers’ offensive production at catcher had been abysmal this season. Granted, most teams get poor production from their backstops, but the Rangers’ team .285 OBP from catchers is the sixth-worst in baseball.
But beyond getting improvement from the catcher’s spot in the order, the team also should get some measure of upgrade for their true Achilles’ heel: the starting rotation. Though Bobby Wilson has been slightly better than average getting extra strikes, Chirinos has been average at best, and has a history of below-average framing performance. There’s a significant chance that the team’s average-ish back-of-the-rotation pitchers could benefit from Lucroy’s framing acumen, and start getting a few extra strikes as the season comes to a close. Run prevention is run prevention, whether it comes from pitcher or catcher talent.
In addition to helping out the team’s rotation, a nice little byproduct of the deal is that the bullpen should improve quite a bit as well with the acquisition of Jeremy Jeffress. The Brewers’ former closer isn’t an elite reliever like some of the others who changed hands prior to the deadline; he’s no Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman or even Mark Melancon. What he is, is basically a carbon copy on incumbent closer “Sudden” Sam Dyson.
In addition to being very similar in terms of age (28) and handedness (right), each of these two pitchers gets a significant number of ground balls (over 59 percent), strikes guys out somewhere in the neighborhood of seven batters per nine, and has a solid walk rate between 2.2 and 2.6 batters per nine. They both have low ERAs–2.22 for Jeffress and 2.42 for Dyson–that belie more moderate DRAs–3.94 for Jeffress and 3.84 for Dyson–and possess above-average, but not earth-shaking cFIPs. In essence, the team duplicated their effective closer, which makes a big difference when Jeffress replaces a pitcher of the caliber of former closer Shawn Tolleson.
The addition of Lucroy is huge, and taking on Jeffress and Carlos Beltran in a separate deal makes the Rangers a more well-rounded squad. It’s a little bit of a mystery why the team didn’t strive harder to replace the question marks at the back end of their rotation, but this certainly looks like a better team than the one they fielded on July 31. Lucroy was likely the best player to change hands on deadline day (sorry Rich Hill!), and the fact that he’ll be available on an inexpensive contract through 2017 means that, though the price was steep, the Rangers will likely not regret this deal, even if their playoff run is shorter than they would like.
When in doubt, praise the team who adds the elite talent at the deadline … if all else fails, the Rangers could deal Lucroy to a team (other than the Indians) in the offseason. Until then, the Rangers have probably established themselves as the top talent-laden squad in the American League, and thanks to Jon Daniels and company’s fine work building up the farm, they still have enough young talent to hold the line for years to come. —Bryan Grosnick
This is pretty simple, no? From a good hitters' ballpark to another one, from a meh supporting cast to a really good one. It takes players a bit to adjust to new leagues sometimes, but there’s every reason to believe this will be a net positive for Lucroy once he’s settled in. Unless you just lost Lucroy in an NL-only league, you should be happy about this move. More R and RBI opportunity await him in Texas. —Ben Carsley
Sam Dyson, Jeremy Jeffress
So this was going to be about how Jeffress is obviously the better reliever, but how Dyson might end up staying in the closer spot because he hasn’t done anything to lose it. Funny thing, though. As noted above, Jeffress and Dyon are basically having the same season. Jeffress is a touch better at preventing free passes and Dyson is better at inducing ground balls, but yeah. You tell me which one of these guys is supposed to close? My money is on Dyson simply because he’s the incumbent and he’s done nothing to lose the job, but there’s no doubt that his leash is a lot tighter than it was as a result of this trade. For Jeffress, that means going from saving games to holding them, which is bad for our purposes. —Ben Carsley
It shouldn’t really matter, but yeah. RIP playing time. —Ben Carsley
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Acquired OF-R Lewis Brinson, RHP Luis Ortiz, and a player to be named later from Texas Rangers in exchange for C-R Jonathan Lucroy and RHP Jeremy Jeffress. [8/1]
Lewis Brinson came into 2016 needing to show that he was really the player he appeared to be at the end of 2015, and while he started the year hot, a slump and a trip to the disabled list have had some questioning his ability to consistently put bat to ball. Hidden among these issues, however, is a slightly reduced strikeout rate, and the ever-present possibility that he could figure it out in the very next game.
Even if he doesn’t figure it out for a few years, his defense and speed (along with the very real power) means that he could be a valuable major-league piece, hitting low in a lineup for a team that now looks to be extremely young for years to come. Brinson makes difficult plays in center field look routine, and routine plays look childishly easy, and while he’s not an elite baserunner, he’s fast enough that he will take the extra base on occasion. There’s a lot of on-the-field maturing left to do for the rangy right-hander, but at only 22, he’s got plenty of time left. —Kate Morrison
Four solid pitches and command at Double-A are a rare enough thing to make Luis Ortiz stand out, and that’s before you consider his draft pedigree. The Rangers’ 2014 first-round pick, Ortiz has impressed at every level he’s pitched, and despite some injury issues, has progressed relatively quickly through the system. The right-hander throws a fastball he can run anywhere from 90-97 mph, though he usually lives between 92-95. When he changes the velocity on his fastball, he can also change the movement, dropping it into the bottom of the zone or running it away from the hands of hitters.
Ortiz also throws a slider, a changeup, and a curveball, and while the slider is the most advanced of those pitches, he’s actively improved on all of them. On the negative side, Ortiz is not a svelte pitcher, and his weight issues, combined with a history of injuries of varying significance, could dampen his overall potential ceiling. Even if he doesn’t hit that ceiling, however, he could still be a very solid innings-eating mid-rotation starter who will please the crowds with his strikeouts. —Kate Morrison
THAT’S RIGHT. Y’all told me I was crazy. Told me Thornburg didn’t matter in fantasy. Told me I should stop loving him. But I didn’t listen to you. And now we are just a few weeks away from Tyler Thornburg: Proven Closer™. Will he be any good in the role? His 2.32 ERA, 2.62 DRA, 34.9 K%, and his velocity suggest yes. His 8.3 BB%, 44.2 FB%, and 1.05 HR/FB suggest “meh.” But he certainly appears likely to get a shot as the Brewers’ closer, and that’s worth taking a gamble on in every league. If you need saves and you’re in contention, spend FAAB aggressively or burn a high-priority waiver claim on him. —Ben Carsley
As much as the arrow can point up for a career .219/.293/.341 hitter, at least. There’s a good chance Andrew Susac takes over as the everyday catcher at some point, but if you’re in a two-catcher NL-only league … why? Why are you in that league? —Ben Carsley