Saturday, July 30, 2016

Jonathan Lucroy Isn't Yoenis Céspedes, Or Is He?

Jonathan Lucroy may not be Yoenis Cespedes, but he sure looks a lot like Daniel Murphy.  (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

No one is going to confuse Jonathan Lucroy with Yoenis Céspedes.  Céspedes is a slugger who has never hit fewer than 22 homers in any of his five seasons in the majors, averaging 31 homers and 103 RBI for every 162 games played, while Lucroy's career high in home runs is 18.  Céspedes is also a left fielder, while Lucroy squats behind the plate.

But despite the obvious differences, Lucroy has the potential to be an impact player just like Céspedes was last year for the Mets.  Allow me to explain.

The Mets have two problems.  When they're on offense, especially with runners in scoring position, they turn into a Mario Mendoza cover band.  And believe me, they've covered him very well, batting .202 (148-for-732) with runners in scoring position.

The team's other problem occurs when they're on defense.  They allow too many [expletive deleted] stolen bases!  New York has allowed 84 steals in 111 attempts, allowing opposing base runners to steal at a 76% success rate.  The average major league team has allowed just 52 stolen bases and a 71% success rate, so yeah, I'd call this a problem for the Mets.

So how do the Mets fix these two problems with just one player?  All they have to do is make a trade for Jonathan Lucroy.

For the season, Lucroy is batting .300 with 17 doubles, 13 homers and 50 RBI.  He also has a .360 on-base percentage and a .484 slugging percentage to give him an .844 OPS.  Now consider this.  Lucroy's .300 batting average and .844 OPS are both higher than the marks Céspedes was producing at the time the Mets acquired him last year.  (La Potencia was batting .293 and had an .829 OPS when he was traded to New York.)

It's true that Céspedes had driven in more runs at the time of the swap, as Yoenis had amassed 61 RBI before coming to the Mets, or 11 more than Lucroy has now.  But remember that Lucroy is a catcher and therefore did not have all the plate appearances that an outfielder like Céspedes would have.  Lucroy's 50 RBI in 324 at-bats this year (an RBI every 6.5 AB) is comparable to the 61 RBI produced by Céspedes last year in 403 at-bats prior to becoming a Met (an RBI every 6.6 AB).

Lucroy also excels at driving in runners in scoring position when there are two outs, batting .289 in those situations.  That would be a marked improvement over the paltry .164 batting average the Mets currently have under those circumstances, which includes the .308 mark put up by Céspedes.  (Take out Céspedes and the team would have a .152 batting average with two outs and runners in scoring position.  Yeah, it's really that bad.)  Imagine a lineup with two players hitting back-to-back who can produce when the team is down to its last out in an inning!  That's what Lucroy would bring to the Mets.

Now, as great as Céspedes was with the bat both last year and in 2016, there's nothing he can do about the plethora of stolen bases being registered against the Mets.  If you recall, earlier this week Céspedes hit a home run against the Cardinals that gave the Mets a late-inning lead.  However, a two-run rally by the Cardinals in the ninth inning, which included a stolen base by Jeremy Hazelbaker to set up the tie-breaking hit by Kolten Wong, caused a potential wonderful win by the Mets to turn into a devastating defeat.

Céspedes couldn't do it all in that game against St. Louis.  That's where Jonathan Lucroy comes in.

Do you know which catcher is leading the league in most base runners caught stealing?  That would be one Jonathan Charles Lucroy.  Lucroy has gunned down 32 would-be base stealers, or five more than Travis d'Arnaud, Rene Rivera and Kevin Plawecki have been able to throw out ... combined!  In addition, Lucroy has thrown out 40% of the runners trying to steal a base against him.  The National League average is just 28%.

So let's review.

Have bat, will travel - hopefully to New York.  (Rob Tringali/Getty Images)

Jonathan Lucroy has produced just as much with the bat this year with the Brewers as Céspedes did last year with the Tigers prior to Yoenis being traded to the Mets.  Lucroy is just as likely to drive in a run as Céspedes is.  It just doesn't show up in the cumulative numbers because Lucroy plays fewer games due to the fact that he is a catcher.

Lucroy is batting 125 points higher than the Mets are in two out/RISP situations, meaning that he is much more likely to collect the two-out hit needed to drive in a runner from second or third base than your typical Met is.  This would put an end to those frustrating innings when the Mets put multiple men on base but don't bring them home.

And finally, Lucroy would cause the running at will against Mets pitchers to slow down a bit once opposing base runners realize that he's actually quite adept at throwing them out.  That would thwart potential rallies and keep runs off the board.

When Rene Rivera is leading Mets catchers in home runs and RBI with four and 17, respectively, and there is the potential to acquire another catcher with a 13 and 50 in those categories, you know the Mets have to pull the trigger on this deal.

Jonathan Lucroy isn't the sexy name that Yoenis Céspedes was last year and he probably can't hit balls into the third deck at Citi Field like the Mets' outfielder has, but Lucroy can help the Mets in so many ways that even Céspedes can't.  And he could be the difference between the Mets playing meaningful games in October again or the Mets watching other teams doing the same.

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