TEMPE, Ariz. -- At the Winter Meetings in December, manager Brad Ausmus expressed his desire for the Angels to add a veteran catcher who could handle a pitching staff.Ausmus, a former catcher in the Majors for 18 seasons, got his wish, as the Angels signed Jonathan Lucroy to a one-year,
TEMPE, Ariz. -- At the Winter Meetings in December, manager Brad Ausmus expressed his desire for the Angels to add a veteran catcher who could handle a pitching staff.
Ausmus, a former catcher in the Majors for 18 seasons, got his wish, as the Angels signed Jonathan Lucroy to a one-year, $3.35 million deal in early January. Lucroy helped guide the A's to the postseason last year and Ausmus feels his experience helping pitchers is invaluable.
"He takes a lot of pride in working with the pitching staff and getting them through games and knowing the opposing team's lineup," Ausmus said. "It would be the holy grail in metrics if you could figure out how to put a number on guys who call good games or work with pitchers. Right now, we can't do that. It'll probably happen someday, but we can't do that right now."
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As far as the metrics that are quantifiable, the Angels believe they can help the two-time All-Star improve both offensively and defensively. They came to him this offseason with a detailed plan on the parts of his game they feel could be tweaked to make him a better all-around player.
The Angels have a wealth of coaches with catching experience at their disposal, including catching coach Jose Molina, bench coach Josh Paul, catching coordinator Eddy Rodriguez and Ausmus. Their new hitting coaches, Shawn Wooten and Jeremy Reed, are also adept at using video and analytics to help on the offensive side.
"They were very aggressive about wanting to make me better," Lucroy said. "They saw some things they think I can improve at, which is what I'm all about. From the player's side of it, that's really all you can ask for in terms of a destination in free agency, a place that they want to bring you in, they value you and they want to make you better. For me, that's definitely a huge positive."
One area where Lucroy would like to improve is his offense, as he was one of the game's best-hitting catchers while with the Brewers from 2010-16, but has seen his numbers dip over the last two seasons. He hit .241/.291/.325 with four homers, 21 doubles and 51 RBIs in 126 games with Oakland last year.
But a deeper look at the numbers shows he still hits the ball hard, as his average exit velocity off the bat was 87.5 mph, which is right in line with catchers such as Buster Posey (87.6 mph) and Gary Sánchez (87.5 mph), per Statcast™.
Lucroy, though, is working on finding the optimum launch angle, as he's begun to incorporate more lift into his swing, going from a low average launch angle of 7.7 degrees in '17 to 13.4 degrees last season.
"My hand-eye coordination is still there, and that's really what it's all about, the ability to put the bat on the ball," Lucroy said. "It's just making some minor tweaks and getting rid of some of the bad habits you get yourself into, and that's what we're really working on right now."
But Lucroy knows that the main reason why he was brought in was for his defense and ability to help pitchers and is happy he signed so early in the offseason. Last year, he didn't sign with Oakland until March 12, so he has ample time to get to know Angels pitchers this spring.
"My primary job right now is to take care of these pitchers," Lucroy said. "Offense obviously is going to come second here. We have a great lineup already. I want to hit but my primary reason for being here is to take care of these pitchers, and that's what I'm going to do."
Rhett Bollinger covers the Angels for MLB.com. He previously covered the Twins from 2011-18. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.