It’s been a tough season for the Milwaukee Brewers starting catcher, Jonathan Lucroy. His horrendous start to the season followed by more than a month of missed time with a broken toe did nothing to help while the Brewers collapsed to start 2015. He has seen many of his teammates get traded this year, has had to fight through some mechanical issues, and some of the remarks Lucroy has made to the media about the franchise and his future in Milwaukee have rubbed a not insignificant segment of the fanbase the wrong way.
The team has been playing better baseball of late, however, and Lucroy has enjoyed an uptick in his overall production. Since returning from his toe injury on June 1st, Luc has hit .277/.337/.420 in 351 plate appearances with seven home runs and 20 doubles. While these numbers are still a far cry from Lucroy’s MVP caliber season in 2014, they are pretty well aligned with his career averages. The Brewers’ catcher now owns a .712 OPS on the season and has been valued at 1.3 WARP, according to Baseball Prospectus.
Unfortunately, Lucroy has now encountered a new obstacle in this trying season. After taking a foul ball of his mask during Milwaukee’s game against Miami on September 8th, Luc was diagnosed with a “mild concussion” and has been held out of the lineup in the team’s last three games. During the FS-Wisconsin broadcast of yesterday’s game in Pittsburgh, Brian Anderson mentioned that while Lucroy’s concussion symptoms hadn’t worsened, there hadn’t been any significant change or improvement. The team announced to reporters yesterday that they were sending Lucroy to be examined by specialists at the renowned University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The Brewers are rightfully exercising great caution with this issue.
“His symptoms are not changing,” Counsell said. “(H)e’s not available tonight (9/11) and tomorrow for sure. We’re just going to go slow with this…It’s an injury that you’re going on his symptoms. So, we have to be patient with his symptoms and we will be.”
While there hasn’t been as big of a debacle about concussions in baseball as there have been with the NFL, traumatic brain injuries are becoming seemingly more common throughout the game. It was recently announced that Nori Aoki won’t return to the Giants for the rest of the season due to issues stemming from a concussion he received earlier this summer. Justin Morneau has missed nearly two years in his career while dealing with separate concussions. Ryan Freel was the first former MLB player to be diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE, after his brain was studied following his suicide in 2012. Major League Baseball has instituted a concussion protocol that players must clear before they are allowed to return to the field, and there is a seven-day disabled list specifically for players that suffer concussions (Lucroy won’t need to be DL’d due expanded September rosters).
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Milwaukee is no stranger to a player dealing with concussion issues, either. Prior to the 2006 season, the Brewers acquired third baseman Corey Koskie, a 33 year year old with a career 113 OPS+ in nine seasons. Koskie posted an .833 OPS and 12 home runs in his first 76 games with the crew. On July 5th, 2006, Koskie suffered a concussion while attempting to make a sliding catch down the left field line. He was diagnosed with post-consussion syndrome and never again appeared in a major league game. He attempted a comeback with the Cubs in Spring Training of 2009, but decided to retire rather than further risk his health.
The team will be keeping their fingers crossed that Jonathan Lucroy’s concussion turns out to be nothing too serious, not only for the player’s quality of life, but for the long-term health of the franchise. He is the considered by many to be the face of the team; a blue-collar type who plays a premium defensive position, loves to win, and prides himself on hard work. Luc’s production and contract status also make him the team’s top trade chip, and while it was unlikely he was moved this winter anyway, a poor start next year could convince the team to attempt to move him prior to next July’s trade deadline (similarly to how Carlos Gomez was moved with ~1.5 years of club control remaining). In his stead, the team has turned catching duties over to backups Martin Maldonado and Nevin Ashley, both of whom are terrific defenders but don’t offer anything close to the offensive production Lucroy is capable of.
We should hopefully learn more about Jonathan Lucroy’s condition and a possible timeline for return following his visit to the concussion specialist today, but until then we can only hope for the best for the Brewers’ franchise catcher and be thankful the team is exercising great care.