I was going to preview Mat Gamel today.
Now that Gamel and his ill-fortuned ACL have thrown us a curveball, it’s time to adjust with some Jonathan Lucroy.
Jonathan, call again
Take me to Coney Island
Take me on the train
Kiss me while I calculate
Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy, 26, is on the verge of establishing himself as one of the game’s top catchers.
On a team faced with many questions this spring training, Lucroy is one of the few sure-things coming into camp. Last season, he batted .320/.368/.513 with 12 homers and 58 RBI in an injury-derailed 96-game season. Before his injury in late May, Lucroy was on an absolute tear, placing among league leaders with a .345 batting average and .969 OPS, appearing to be All-Star Game bound in only his second season as starting catcher.
Lucroy’s power numbers jolted last year as he became more comfortable with big league pitching. He went deep 12 times (the same total as the year before, but in 122 fewer plate appearances), his HR/FB rate went up a whole point, and his isolated power (slugging percentage minus batting average) sat at .193 compared to the .126 of 2011. He’s hitting more fly balls and fewer infield fly balls, which leaves us with only one option. Add in Lucroy’s ability to drive the ball to any field and make a concerted effort to stay back and take pitches away to right, and there you have his jump in power numbers.
This increase in power, along with an uncanny knack for driving in runs, makes the 3rd round pick in 2007 a formidable heart of the order hitter. Among players with at least 100 plate appearances with runners in scoring position (RISP), Jonny Luke was second with a .389 average, driving in 50 runs in his 96 appearances those 106 tries (six of which were walks and two were hit by pitches). That comes to a 51% chance Lucroy would drive a runner in from scoring position in any at-bat, odds which suit him for the middle of the lineup well, even without scoreboard-popping homer totals.
After hitting eighth for the majority of his first two seasons, Lucroy was moved to the middle of the order for much of 2012, a move that paid dividends for the Brewers. He hit .313 in the six slot – where he batted more than anywhere else (35 games) -, .355 in the five-hole, and was absolutely ridiculous in his three starts in the cleanup role. Until Corey Hart returns from his knee injury, expect Lucroy to fulfill the five hole behind Aramis Ramirez and Ryan Braun.
On May 20 against Minnesota, Lucroy went ballistic hitting cleanup against starter Jason Marquis and the rest of the staff. He hit two homers, including a grand slam in the seventh inning, and drove in seven runs. He finished the day with a 5-3-3-7 boxscore, one of the best single-game offensive outputs by a Brewer. Ever.
Then he pretty much did it again.
In a late August game in Wrigley Field, Lucroy jacked another grand slam and drove in seven runs, fueling an 11-run output by Milwaukee that afternoon.
Lucroy has proven himself offensively and is on the verge of establishing himself among the likes of Joe Mauer, Yadier Molina, and Buster Posey as one of the game’s top catchers. But offense isn’t the only part of his game, though.
On the defensive end, he’s a mainstay behind the plate. Pitchers feel comfortable throwing to Luke – particularly with breaking pitches. He saved 4.2 runs above average in blocked pitches, which I’m taking the liberty to view as a win created by Lucroy’s blocking. His throwing arm is the second-best in the Brewers’ catching rotation, but he saved 4 runs on defense, again a number helped by his ability to block pitches.
Hopefully, Jonny Boy also takes us to Coney Island, with a kiss while we calculate.
2013 RtB Predictions: 504 PA, .295/.355/.452, 20 HR, 81 RBI, 69 R, 6 SB, 4.0 WAR, proper suitcase precautions
Follow @ReviewngTheBrew on Twitter and/or the author (and self-proclaimed most active Twitterist of the staff), Curt Hogg. Be sure to like us on Facebook, too, for more Brewers Season Outlook updates.