Champ or Chump: Kyle Scwarber & Jonathan Lucroy

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There are two viable approaches to the catcher position in fantasy. The first is to accept mediocrity, secure in the knowledge that most of your competitors will not be getting much from the position either. The second is to pay a premium for one of the few catchers who can actually hit, likely hurting your upside elsewhere to avoid rostering a black hole for the entire year.

The former approach has fared better in 2017, as those who paid up for Kyle Schwarber or Jonathan Lucroy have received the same mediocre stats as everybody else. Is there still hope for them, or is it time to accept them as a wasted selection?

Ownership rates provided are from Yahoo leagues.

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The Fantasy Jury is Out

Kyle Schwarber (C/OF, CHC) 92% Owned

Schwarber has struggled to the tune of a .174/.296/.384 line with 12 homers this year. Many owners figured he might be a batting average drag, but an average significantly south of .200 is a bit much. He is also failing to provide the elite power he displayed in 2015 (.246/.355/.487 with 16 homers in 273 PAs). What happened?

The disappointing average is the result of a .195 BABIP and a 28.8% K%. While no one should be expected to produce a BABIP that low, Schwarber's figures to remain low. His extreme fly ball profile (47.2% FB%) and elevated IFFB% (14.7%) give him a low BABIP baseline. Schwarber may also be averse to line drives, sporting a LD% of 12.5% after a 17.3% mark in 2015. It's too early to definitively conclude that Schwarber will never hit liners, but he is trending in that direction.

He also runs like the catcher he used to be and faces the shift in virtually every PA (112 of 133 this year), dooming him to maintain his current .190 BABIP on ground balls. Worse yet, his average exit velocity on the ground is just 80.5 mph this season. With no speed, liners, or well-struck ground balls, Schwarber's true talent BABIP is probably around .240.

Thankfully, the news is better regarding his strikeout rate. His 28.8% K% is virtually identical to 2015's 28.2% rate, but the underlying SwStr% has improved dramatically (14.4% in 2015, 10.9% this year). Schwarber is willing to take a walk (13.6% BB%), but he's patient enough at the plate (43.9% Swing%) to watch a few too many strike threes go by. He'll probably always strikeout more often than his SwStr% suggests, but his current rate should improve significantly going forward.

This brings his average back into the acceptable range for a big power hitter, but Schwarber may not be one. His HR/FB is a strong 17.6%, but his 2015 season was based on a 24.2% mark. His average airborne exit velocity has fallen to 93.7 mph from 96.2 in 2015, supporting the HR/FB decline. His minor league history also supports his current number more than his former one, so HR/FB upside isn't really here. It is difficult to imagine any significant increase in fly balls considering how many he hits already, so Schwarber is likely a 25-homer bat.

Cubs manager Joe Maddon has bounced Schwarber all over the order, so counting stats are not a guarantee unless Schwarber earns a more permanent slot. That leaves Schwarber as a plus (but not plus-plus) power hitter with a terrible batting average who offers little in any other category. That might play from a C slot in leagues with two Cs, but Schwarber hasn't recorded a single PA as a backstop this year. You can drop him if you want.

Verdict: Chump

 
Jonathan Lucroy (C/1B, TEX) 92% Owned

Lucroy's .268/.311/.389 has not been the drain Schwarber's average has been, but the four homers have disappointed owners looking for the 24 he clubbed last year. Where has Lucroy's power gone?

The best guess is that Lucroy has changed his approach to sacrifice his power for average. His K% has declined sharply relative to last season, 18.4% to 8.5%. This change is also supported by SwStr% (7.8% to 4.7%), a number rooted in an absurd 97.4% Z-Contact%. It is not possible to make authoritative contact on every pitch in the zone, so it is logical to conclude that Lucroy isn't trying to. He's just trying to put the ball in play.

A poorer quality of contact is the predictable result. First of all, his FB% has declined from 38.7% last season to 29.3% this year. It would be tough to hit 20 homers when so few batted balls are hit into the air. He is also pulling fewer fly balls (13.2%) than he did last year (25.7%), making it more challenging for his flies to leave the stadium. Furthermore, Lucroy's average airborne exit velocity is down to 89.4 mph from 91.4 a year ago. He is also barrelling the ball less frequently, as his Brls/BBE has declined from 7.6% in 2016 to just 3.3% this year. He's simply not hitting the ball hard enough to be a power hitter.

If Lucroy changed his approach to boost his average, why is his .268 average lower than last year's .292? It's boring, but the answer is probably luck. Lucroy's batting average approach is being counteracted by a decline in LD% (24.2% to 18.2%) relative to 2016. His career LD% is 22.6%, so he should not be expected to maintain a below average rate. The few liners he has hit have also underperformed (.545 BABIP) relative to their career norms (.687).

If Lucroy's line drives return to their historical levels, his lower K% and increased GB% should boost his average back into the .290+ range. Lucroy usually hits toward the bottom of the Texas lineup, so his counting stats won't get a massive boost even with a plus average. Still, the bar for catchers is so low that you probably need to wait for Lucroy's average to rebound.

Verdict: Champ

 

 

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