Originally written on Fangraphs  |  Last updated 11/19/14

The Brewers added another to their list of core players under long-term contracts, inking catcher Jonathan Lucroy to a four or five year deal Monday. Lucroy, who broke through to the majors in 2010 and was the starter from day one in 2011, will be covered through at least his arbitration seasons and possibly his first free agent year.

Although Lucroy hit well for a catcher last season at .265/.313/.391 (94 wRC+), he hasn’t developed into the hitter he showed he could be in the minor leagues. Between rookie ball, both levels of A-ball and Double-A, Lucroy posted wRC+ totals above 125 in every one of his minor league stints, showcasing solid contact rates and patience. The patience has left him in the majors, as he’s walked in just 6.2% of his major league plate appearances. His free-swinging ways partially resulted in his 21.2% strikeout rate as well, nearly five percentage points above his previous high at any level.

But any extra offensive production from Lucroy will be gravy at this point. His glovework provides immense value to the Brewers’ pitching staff. According to Mike Fast’s seminal work on catchers framing pitches, only Jose Molina betters Lucroy on a per-game basis. Lucroy’s ability to get umpires to call strikes saves 24 runs per 120 games – similar to the impact of an All-Star level bat.

The Brewers may be able to get similar or better value on Lucroy going year-to-year with his arbitration years, but the monetary risk is minimal here and the Brewers really need some cost certainty with the rest of their core progressing up the payroll ladder yearly. Yovani Gallardo, Ryan Braun, Rickie Weeks, Aramis Ramirez, and Corey Hart will all see raises soon, and the Brewers need to lock in some cheap pieces to be able to maintain this core throughout the next few years.

Jonathan Lucroy isn’t a key part of the Brewers’ core just yet, but he provides some value at the plate and heaps of value behind it. Although we don’t know the exact financial details, it’s hard to imagine this deal breaking the bank – think a bit more expensive than Salvador Perez’s $7 million deal, but not exorbitantly so. As a cost-controlled player over the next five years who can help balance the monetary loads of the Brewers’ stars, he and his contract could be very important in keeping the Brewers competitive over the next half-decade.

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