Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
Was there any doubt? This year’s winner of RtB’s Brewers MVP Award is catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Arguably the face of the Brewers today, Lucroy had an outstanding season and should garner some NL MVP votes. While I don’t believe Lucroy takes home that coveted prize, he handily won the team prize via our voters.
Given Lucroy’s status with the Crew today, it may come as a surprise that 2014 was just his second season qualifying for the batting title. His offense first showed such promise in 2012, when he posted a .969 OPS in the first two months of the season.
After being sidelined for two months with a “boxer’s fracture”, Lucroy maintained most of his success for the remainder of the year with an .811 OPS, for a very promising .320/.368/.513 slash line over 96 games.
Lucroy followed up in 2013 with a solid season, but was still middle-of-the-road (6th in fWAR, 5th in OBP) among qualified catchers. There was no doubt that Lucroy was now a very valuable asset to the Crew, but his 2013 still pales in comparison to what he did this season.
In 2014, Lucroy finished 3rd in fWAR in the NL, with the 4th lowest K%, and the best BB/K ratio in the National League at 0.93, meaning he struck out only slightly more than he drew walks, a feat that is becoming more and more rare as rising strikeout numbers become the norm. Lucroy also finished in the top 10 in batting average, OBP, and OPS in the NL, and led the Major Leagues in doubles with 53.
Lucroy set the Major League record for most doubles as a catcher when he hit his 46th just days before the end of the season. Over all positions and situations, his 53 doubles matched the Brewers franchise record set by Lyle Overbay in 2004. He also managed 10 more doubles than his closest competitor (Freddie Freeman) in the National League.
Perhaps the most important change that Lucroy has undergone has been the minimizing of the once massive discrepancy of his splits when facing right- vs. left-handed pitchers. This change can be found in an article I will post shortly following this one, found here.
In short, Lucroy has evolved into a player that can have success against pitchers regardless of their handedness, and this only furthers his overall value at the plate. That said, behind the plate is where so much of Lucroy’s MVP candidacy finds its footing.
Lucroy has long been believed to be one of -if not-the best catchers at framing pitches. This means that he has near the highest rate of “fooling” the home plate umpire into calling a pitch outside of the strike zone a strike. This ability to expand the zone elevates the game of every pitcher that throws to him, and is invaluable to the team.
Lucroy likewise cut his number of errors as a backstop in half from ’13 to’14, and is a finalist for the Gold Glove Award. Lucroy was arguably the best offensive or defensive catcher in 2014, but there is little doubt that he was the best overall.
He had easily the highest fWAR among catchers at 6.3, while also leading catchers in BB%(10.1), OBP(.373), and oddly enough, stolen bases(4). Lucroy’s season was one of the best–and most well-rounded– by a Brewer in this century, and he is well deserving of our award.
As always, the final results of the MVP voting and a detail of the MVP Runner-up’s season will be released later.