At the trade deadline on August 1, after all the drama–the trade to the Indians, the undone trade to the Indians, the rumors as the deadline approached—Jonathan Lucroy sat in the parking lot at O’Hare International Airport and received final confirmation from his agent that he was joining something that he’d wished for for a long time: a winning team.
When Lucroy was traded to the Texas Rangers—who at the time held a 62-44 record and a six-game lead in the division, the second largest lead in baseball—it felt as though everything was falling into place in Arlington.
And it certainly was. While the Rangers were on the verge of running away with the division, they also needed an extra push, a final piece—or, more simply, a decent major-league catcher. With the Brewers intent on moving Lucroy, the Rangers didn’t have to give up Joey Gallo, Lucroy got to go to his most targeted team, and all’s well that ends well. Texas has surged to an 89-62 record, a 9.5-game lead in the division, the best record in the American League and a better, stronger roster intent on redeeming the Rangers’ 2015 postseason defeat.
Was the second-half success surge because of Lucroy? Ludicrous. But he has made the big picture appear even brighter and more vivid than it had been before. “I like being part of something bigger, like a cog in an engine,” he said of being traded to a contender. And that’s exactly what he is. Let’s take a look at how Lucroy has contributed to the Rangers during his time in Texas.
He’s an improvement behind the plate
Lucroy’s career value as a framer is well known, well covered, and solidified by our increasingly sensitive framing stats. He has been an invaluable and elite force behind the plate for most of his career.
That’s less true every year, though. He had a FRAA of 29.3 in 2013 and declined only to 16.9 in 2014. But injuries that plagued him in 2015 cost him value not only at the plate but behind it, as he posted a 0.9 FRAA in Milwaukee.
This year, his FRAA (at -1.5 runs) is in the red for the first time in his career. Since joining Texas, it’s -1.7 runs. That’s a small sample, but Jonathan Judge has found that framing numbers stabilize very quickly. And yet we’ve listed this under the “He’s an improvement behind the plate” heading.
For a bit of perspective, take a look at the four backstops that Texas had behind the plate before the arrival of Lucroy, and the framing numbers they put up individually:
When you look at it with this sort of context, Lucroy’s numbers are actually good for Texas. They’re an improvement. It also shouldn’t be discounted that Lucroy is a veteran catcher who is working extremely hard to give this Texas rotation a familiar face behind the plate every night, and someone that they feel comfortable with. “I think he has had an impact, yes,” Rangers manager Jeff Bannister said of Lucroy. “Our guys have thrown well to him, and you see the confidence in how they pitch.”
Consistency is part of the human aspect of baseball that is hard to quantify, but Lucroy is adding an important dynamic behind the plate each night in Texas for this rotation, who have seen a lot of inconsistency and not a lot of strong leadership behind the plate. Remember, Texas’ rotation went through some growing pains of its own, and the presence of a leader like Lucroy for this staff should not be taken for granted.
He’s a strong offensive force with change on his side
Since Lucroy has arrived in Texas, he’s been an explosive offensive force in a Texas lineup that at one point was simply middle of the pack. The Rangers were 12th in baseball in OPS (unadjusted) during the first half, but are fourth in the second half. Lucroy has hit .299/.350/.556 since joining the club, which is more or less what he was doing in Milwaukee but with a big boost in slugging percentage. He has more hom runs as a Ranger than he had in 60 percent more games as a Brewer, and while not all of those homers have been aided by his cozy new home ballpark, he has enjoyed his new home cooking: Lucroy is hitting .333/.455/.648 in Arlington this year.
One of the most noticeable changes Lucroy has made is that he is learning to expand his plate coverage particularly well in Texas. Since joining the Rangers in August, Lucroy currently has the highest slugging average on changeups and sliders, hitting them for .636 and .833 SLG, respectively. But perhaps more importantly, he’s conquering an area of the zone that he had not previously this season with the Brewers–soft stuff, low and outside. Whether that reflects that he is locked in or making adjustments, it's neutralized pitchers' primary weapon against him.
Lucroy has not only brought improved defensive statistics begin the dish to Texas, and a newfound power surge to go along with it, he’s also added a selfless dynamic to this team. Lucroy has stressed his desire to be as dedicated to this team's focus on winning as possible. Being dealt to a new team as a starting catcher in the middle of a season, especially to a completely different league, is never easy. “In my personal experience, playing unselfishly makes you more successful, part of being unselfish is putting the time in. If you’re not doing it, someone else is.” Lucroy said in August. “I want my teammates to trust me behind the plate.”
“I’ve seen him in the clubhouse early, always studying, so it gives me trust about the pitch calls,” starting pitcher Yu Darvish said of Lucroy.
Lucroy may not be the reason the Rangers are poised to make the playoffs; they were well on their way before him. But that’s probably the most important thing that Lucroy recognizes. “I know I had nothing to do with the Rangers getting to where they are now, but I want to have a lot to do with finishing the job.” Lucroy said. And with a successful second half in Arlington under his belt, he and his new teammates are well on their way.
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