Milwaukee Brewers’ catcher Jonathan Lucroy had been a solid big league regular since debuting for the team in 2010 before breaking out in a big way last season. Lucroy was at one point in the race for the batting title, before ending the season with a stellar .301/.373/.465 line with 13 home runs in a (far and away) career high 655 plate appearances in 2014, covering 153 games played. He finished the season 7th in NL batting average, 9th in on base percentage, 5th in hits, and 8th in runs created. He lead the league with 53 doubles, tying the franchise mark set by Lyle Overbay.
Lucroy has always been regarded as a strong defender, and 2014 was no different. He posted 11 defensive runs saved according to Fangraphs, receiving stellar marks as a receiver both blocking and framing pitches. Lucroy 25.9% of would-be base stealers in 2014, his best mark since 2011. He also started 16 games at first base, where he played passable defense. The trade for lefty hitting Adam Lind earlier this offseason has opened the door for Lucroy to get more starts against left handers at first base this season, which Andrew Gruman of Fox Sports Wisconsin discussed earlier today.
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All in all, Lucroy posted a 6.6 wins above replacement mark in 2014, third highest among National League position players. He finished fourth in Most Valuable Player voting, and second in Gold Glove voting for catcher. He was without a doubt the most valuable player on the Brewers last season. So, what can we expect from Jonathan Lucroy in 2015?
There are several encouraging numbers that show Lucroy’s breakout in 2014 wasn’t a mirage. Jonathan did benefit from a .324 BABIP, which was 24 points higher than league average last season. However, his career BABIP is .311, so his 2014 wasn’t a huge jump. He posted above average numbers run totals against every pitch against except sliders last year, and even then he was only rated at a -0.5 wSL mark, so there isn’t a specific pitch that he really struggles against. He hit .300 against righties and .304 against lefties, so he doesn’t suffer from a platoon split. His walk rate was a strong 10.1% last season, and it has improved each of the last three years. He rarely strikes out, with only a 10.8% strikeout rate last season, and he hits a ton of line drives with 22.3% last year.
In 2015, I’m predicting:
141 g 581 PA 527 AB 83 R 154 H 38 2B 2 3B 14 HR 71 RBI 3 SB 2 CS .292 BA .356 OBP .452 SLG 52 BB 67 K
Here you can find a nice WAR calculator, which I have used for this piece. Based upon last season’s average .750 OPS and rating Lucroy as a “great” defender behind the plate, the numbers I predicted would give Jonathan a 5.14 WAR for 2015. While not quite as amazing as in 2014, this mark would still place Lucroy among the top catchers in baseball.
In my optimized lineup piece, I hoped that Luc would be hitting leadoff in 2015. In a more traditional lineup, it’s likely that he will end up serving as the number two hitter. Lucroy will likely start 25-30 games at first base while spelling Lind, and the Brewers will likely try to rest him a little more than they have in the past and employ backup Martin Maldonado more often behind the dish. This should keep Lucroy’s legs more fresh as the season rolls on, as he showed some fatigue in the second half last season while his average after the All-Star break was over 30 points lower than before.
Jonathan Lucroy was an MVP caliber player last season, and while it would be difficult for anyone to repeat those numbers, I think the stats show that Lucroy can be almost as good this season. He hits basically all pitches well from all pitchers, and smokes line drives all over the field. The Brewers have gotten used to All-Star caliber numbers from Lucroy behind the dish, and 2015 should be no different.