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Did the Cubs sign Jonathan Lucroy at exactly the right time?

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The veteran catcher appears to be in the midst of a positive regression with his new team

Jonathan Lucroy hits an RBI single in the series opener against the Giants
David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

When the Cubs signed Jonathan Lucroy on August 8 to fill in for injured starting catcher Willson Contreras there were a lot of “meh” reactions from Cubs fans. After all, it seemed like it would have been easier to just keep Martín Maldonado around rather than bring on a player who looked well past his prime. I definitely agreed with those assessments, with an important caveat:

Lucroy’s BABIP in 2019 indicates he might be getting a little unlucky. For his career he has a BABIP of .301, so it’s possible he has a bit of positive regression in his future. Additionally, his BB/K numbers are still pretty good. I’m not trying to sugar coat things here, a wRC+ of 84 and an fWAR of -0.3 are not great, but the Cubs don’t need him to return to his 2015 self to be helpful down the stretch. They need him to be a stronger option than Taylor Davis.

Well, here’s the thing. As of this morning the Cubs appear to have gotten exactly that positive regression I mentioned on August 8. I took the chart from that original piece showing Lucroy’s last five year’s of stats and tacked on his numbers since joining the Cubs. Admittedly, it’s seven games and 24 plate appearances, so my small sample size alert is on high, but Lucroy looks like a different player for his new team:

Jonathan Lucroy key stats

Player Team PA HR BB% K% BABIP AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
Player Team PA HR BB% K% BABIP AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR
2015 Brewers 415 7 8.7% 15.4% .297 .264 .326 .391 95 1.6
2016 Brewers/Rangers 544 24 8.6% 18.4% .322 .292 .355 .500 123 4.5
2017 Rangers/Rockies 481 6 9.6% 10.6% .286 .265 .345 .371 81 -1.1
2018 Athletics 454 4 6.4% 14.3% .273 .241 .291 .325 70 0.2
2019 Angels 268 7 7.8% 14.6% .259 .242 .310 .371 84 -0.3
2019 Cubs 24 0 8.3% 12.5% .389 .333 .417 .381 108 0.1
Past 5 seasons plus 2019 split between Angels and Cubs Fangraphs

His BABIP is about 88 points higher than his career norm right now, but you’d expect a bit of that considering it was about 41 points lower coming into his time with the Cubs.

I also played around with some of the game log statistics at Baseball Savant to see if there are any underlying changes to his approach that could explain the difference. You can see the results for 2019 below:

Jonathan Lucroy 2019

Player Team PA EV HH% LA xBA
Player Team PA EV HH% LA xBA
2019 Angels 268 87.2 34.0% 12 .256
2019 Cubs 24 86.6 17.0% 23 .242
Select Statcast metrics for 2019 Baseball Savant

Honestly, looking at this my first instinct was that he’s just getting luckier, and then I looked at the difference in launch angle. Lucroy was actually hitting the ball harder earlier in the season, but the angle was significantly lower. It’s possible that small change has helped him put a few more balls in play.

The real Jonathan Lucroy is probably closer to his time with the Angels than his time with the Cubs, but in a year where injuries have seemed to hit the Cubs at the worst time at every turn, the addition of peak Lucroy with Contreras on the IL has been remarkably fortuitous. So far in his time in Chicago he’s slashing .333/.417/.381. There aren’t a lot of starting catchers putting up those types of numbers for their teams, so the Cubs really may have lucked out with Lucroy.