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August 18, 2014

The Buyer's Guide

Jonathan Lucroy

by J.P. Breen


Approach at the plate has been on my mind in recent weeks. I’ve been specifically ruminating on the learned aspect of plate discipline; for example, how gifted 20-something hitters who have otherworldly hand-eye coordination can learn to eschew a simple bat-to-ball approach and focus on quality pitches to hit. That is to say, how can hitters develop the inner filter to discern between pitches they can hit and pitches they should hit, or which pitches they can merely hit and which pitches they can drive.

Obviously, such a development would be desirable for any player, and it can happen for many different reasons. Maybe it’s a maturation process. Maybe it’s a new pitching coach who presents the information in a different way. Maybe it’s trial and error. Maybe it’s studying the numbers. But I’ve been more convinced that most big-league hitters are only able to carve out sustained success over multiple seasons if they can adjust and refine their approach at the plate, at least to some degree.

Bringing this back around to fantasy baseball, I wanted to focus on fastball percentage when it comes to hitters. For one main reason: major-league hitters tend to perform better, on the whole, against fastballs than any other pitch. Now, I’m not advocating something as oversimplified as targeting any player who sees a lot of fastballs at the plate. After all, Ben Revere leads the league in fastball percentage (67.7%), but that’s more because he poses no power threat at the dish.

Thus, I’m much more interested in power hitters who regularly see a heavy dose of fastballs. It’s a working theory that revolves more around anecdotal evidence rather than something that’s been rigorously worked out by statistical analysis, but it follows in my mind that power hitters who see a lot of fastballs have two things going for them: (1) ample opportunity to punish fastballs, and (2) a quality approach that forces pitchers to throw fastballs, when they would otherwise not want to.

That brings me to Jonathan Lucroy. The Brewers’ catcher has burst on the national baseball scene with an All-Star appearance, a .303/.369/.489 slash line, and a postseason-caliber ballclub. He homered, doubled, and drove in five runs against the Dodgers on Sunday afternoon. He was already the no. 1 fantasy catcher in Major League Baseball, but Sunday’s performance only widened the gap.

You know how it is in fantasy baseball, though. It’s about value. Is Jonathan Lucroy really this good? Should fantasy owners pony up and target him on the trade market for the remainder of 2014 (and beyond), or should owners cash in their profits and seek to trade him while his value is at its peak?

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Related Content:  Fantasy,  Jonathan Lucroy

2 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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sldetckl16

As a Lucroy owner in a 14 team keeper league, I enjoyed the swelling pride while reading this article. Also will be keeping Cespedes and Polanco in my outfield and wonder whether Corey Dickerson could rise to a keeper spot as well? He's been a top 10 performer the last month in my points league (identical to Cespedes) and has some monster weeks. Would he be somebody you would consider Buying long-term? Thanks for the article.

Aug 18, 2014 17:57 PM
rating: 0
 
evanpetty

Fantasy baseball aside, your commentary on approach is interesting and one that I have (indirectly) done some research on. I published a guest piece on here many months ago about a paper I wrote that splits a player's production into "vs. a mistake pitch" and "vs. a non-mistake pitch." I also just presented some findings at Saber Seminar this weekend so it's fresh in my mind.

Part of the study is about how I can basically look at a batters' PA's, BA and SLG vs. both mistake a non-mistake pitches and give you a pretty good qualitative description of how he approaches hitting. Basic game theory introduces the winner's game and the loser's game. It applies in a big way in baseball (for both pitchers and hitters). For hitters, a player who plays the loser's game looks to make the pitcher to make the mistake vs. a player playing the winner's game who looks to be aggressive and hit a strike (whether it's a mistake or not). Basically, good hitters playing the winner's game can hit quality pitches, while hitters playing the loser's game depend on the pitcher making a mistake. They mash mistake pitches and are relatively easy outs on quality pitches. Batters also see different number of mistakes, which got me to look into how you can manipulate the number of mistakes you see.

Lucroy is probably the smartest player in baseball so I'm sure this is stuff he analyzes. I think that the loser's game is optimal for most hitters in the league because it allows hitters to let go from trying to cover the entire zone and swing at pitches that are tough to hit. The reality is, there are some strikes that just aren't smart to swing at (the pitcher wants batters to swing at them because they're hard to hit hard). You didn't get deep into this, but I think it's where you're ultimately getting to. Batters who maximize the number of mistakes they see (or just generalize and say good pitches to hit) more or less ignore those quality strikes on the edges of the zone and key in on pitches they can drive. That prepares them to chase bad pitches and miss good pitches less. They also swing less in general. It usually drives up K and BB totals, but also improves slugging. There's a whole lot to say about it that I'm probably not conveying well in this mini rant. But, like you, a good chunk of my development came from observational and anecdotal evidence. But I did a lot of it.

Anyway, good work. And Lucroy is the absolute man.

Aug 19, 2014 08:17 AM
rating: 0
 
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