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Time to Start Jonathan Lucroy Less

The Brewers’ ineptitude on defense was on full display Monday night, as the defense had nearly as many errors (2) as the offense had hits (3). To be honest, there were likely more misplays than hits on the night.

The woeful performance has caused Tom Haudricourt to go off the deep end when it comes to trolls who keep insisting that the defense wasn’t as bad as some said it was. While I don’t agree with calling out some random guy with 22 followers on Twitter, TH did make a good point this morning — for the most part, team defense doesn’t just “fall off.” Instead, bad defense is exposed over time. Ron Roenicke can use all the shifts he wants to put his defenders in a better position to field the ball, but there isn’t much he can do to keep them from throwing the ball away.

The bad defense in Arizona ties in nicely with the latest Catcher Defensive Ratings at Beyond the Boxscore. While most of the talk about the Brewers’ poor defense (justifiably) focuses on the left side of the infield, it’s caused many people to look past just how bad Jonathan Lucroy has been behind the plate this year.

Beyond the Box Score has Lucroy tied for second-worst among 94 catchers in baseball. Only J.P. Arencibia has been worse, according to their numbers.

To build their rankings, Beyond the Box Score uses a few different formulas to measure a catcher’s effectiveness when it comes to errors (both throwing and catching/fielding), wild pitches/passed balls, and stolen bases/caught stealing. When it comes to Lucroy, he’s actually not bad when it comes to making errors, ranking right around league average when it comes to fielding errors and almost a run below average on throwing errors.

Most of the damage is done when it comes to wild pitches/passed balls and caught stealing, though. BtB has Lucroy at 2.7 runs below average in WP/PB and 2.2 runs below average in catching basestealers.

In case you were wondering, they have George Kottaras right in the middle of the pack, coming in as the 55th best catcher in the game. Like Lucroy, Kottaras ranks as below average when it comes to blocking PB/WP (-0.2) and catching basestealers (-0.7), but he at least makes up for it with slightly above-average numbers in avoiding fielding errors (0.1) and throwing errors (0.3).

Back when Wil Nieves was catching every fifth day for Randy Wolf, I understood the frustration. While Nieves ranked as a better defensive catcher than both Kottaras and Lucroy, his bat negated any defensive value he had. Lucroy can’t catch every day, but the fact that the only other option was Nieves made it tough to swallow.

With Nieves now in Nashville and Kottaras back with the big league club, we shouldn’t be griping as much about Wolf’s unwillingness to pitch to Lucroy. Actually, if we’re going to complain about anything, it’s that Lucroy is likely playing too much. Kottaras is still below average defensively and can’t hit left-handed pitching, but lately he’s been the better option against right-handers.

Offensively, Lucroy’s overall season numbers still look good by a catcher’s standards, but outside of his red-hot month of May, he hasn’t done much. Since the end of May, Lucroy is hitting .237/.278/.305. That type of production from Yuni (.265/.267/.371 over the same span) caused Ron Roenicke to starting playing Josh Wilson more. Perhaps the same needs to be done with Lucroy.

I’m far from losing hope when it comes to Lucroy, but it’s clear he’s still learning on the job as a young catcher in the big leagues. It wouldn’t be the worst thing for him (and the Brewers) if Kottaras caught twice every five days instead of just once.

UPDATE: Jack Moore of FanGraphs/Disciples of Uecker/everywhere else pointed out to me that while the BtB numbers for Lucroy are ugly, there was one area where he did quite well (at least last season): framing pitches. Lucroy ranked as the second-best catcher in baseball last season when it came to framing pitches, but unfortunately we don’t have data yet for this season. Using the eye test, though, we’ve seen Lucroy struggle at times with that aspect of catching this year, too — Jack had a good example of this before the All-Star break on how Lucroy cost Chris Narveson a strikeout (and ultimately a run) by not framing a pitch to Miguel Cairo very well.

Defensive numbers tend to fluctuate from year-to-year, and since this is only Lucroy’s second year in the big leagues, we don’t have enough data to conclusively say that Lucroy is a bad defensive catcher. What we can say, though, is that this year he’s been bad (or at least below-average).