Jonathan Lucroy: Near-Elite Catcher | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

On March 26, 2012, the Milwaukee Brewers inked Jonathan Lucroy to a five-year, $11M contract extension. The deal includes a $500k signing bonus and a club option for 2017 ($250k buyout), which could push the overall value of the contract to six-years and $16.25M.

Although the bought-out arbitration years make the calculations much more complicated, the Brewers essentially signed Lucroy to be a one-win player each year between 2012 and 2017. They rolled the dice a bit and signed Lucroy when he was coming off a very mediocre year in 2011. Simply put, the organization hit the jackpot in terms of surplus contract value.

The 27-year-old catcher was signed to be a one-win player, yet since the beginning of the 2012 season, he’s been worth +6.8 wins above replacement. In terms of raw numbers, he’s already justified (and outperformed) the contract extension. He enjoyed a breakout season at the dish last year, hitting .320/.386/.513 with 12 home runs, and his numbers could have been even better had he not missed time with a broken hand.

Because of that injury, many fans didn’t know what to expect from Lucroy coming into this season. His .338 BABIP suggested his batting average would slightly come down, but the real questions surrounded his power. Was he a legitimate 15-20 home run threat? Was he truly one of the better offensive catchers in Major League Baseball?

A year later, Lucroy has convincingly proven his 2012 season wasn’t a fluke. In fact, he’s building upon his breakout season and solidifying himself as one of the better catching options in the league. He only played 96 games last year, and through his first 97 games this season, he already has 16 home runs and his .216 ISO is even higher than his previous career-high .193 ISO. The decreased ground-ball rate has aided that power spike, as it’s given him more opportunity to hit for power.

His batting average has come down, as expected, but he’s otherwise been the same player he was in 2012. His walk rate is almost identical, and his plate discipline numbers haven’t changed much.

Year BB% K% O-Swing% Contact% SwStr%
2012 6.4% 12.7% 33.6% 87.6% 5.6%
2013 6.5% 10.9% 31.2% 87.5% 5.3%

Lucroy has not only backed up his impressive 2012 season. He’s also taken a step forward in some ways — such as lowering his strikeout rate — which is encouraging for any hitter who’s entering the prime of his career. The power appears to be legitimate. The Brewers have what the franchise has lacked for many years: an above-average catching option with skills both at the plate and behind it. The Brewers haven’t had a long-term answer at catcher since arguably B.J. Surhoff in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

On a team featuring Ryan Braun, Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura, the Brewers’ catcher often gets overlooked by both local and national markets. It hasn’t been talked about much, but Lucroy has been a near-elite catcher this season. Check out how he stacks up in comparison to the rest of the league:

Rank Player Team WAR
1 Yadier Molina Cardinals +4.3
2 Joe Mauer Twins +4.2
3 Buster Posey Giants +3.9
4 Russell Martin Pirates +3.6
5 Jonathan Lucroy Brewers +3.0

Of 32 catchers with at least 200 plate appearances this season, Jonathan Lucroy currently owns the fifth-best WAR in all of baseball. His .358 wOBA ranks sixth in the league, and his 128 wRC+ also ranks sixth. His UZR is above-average, though that doesn’t take into account his ability to frame pitches, which is regularly considered to be superior to his peers. There is certainly a line in the sand between the top three and the remainder of the league, but Lucroy has begun to insert himself into the discussion of upper-echelon catchers.

Placing him in context of the franchise, Lucroy’s +3.7 WAR in 2012 was statistically the best-ever season by a Brewers’ catcher, along with Ted Simmons’ 1983 campaign.

Rank Player Season AVG OBP SLG WAR
1 Ted Simmons 1983 .308 .351 .448 +3.7
1 Jonathan Lucroy 2012 .320 .368 .513 +3.7
3 Darrell Porter 1973 .254 .363 .457 +3.6
4 Darrell Porter 1975 .232 .371 .418 +3.6
5 Ted Simmons 1982 .269 .309 .451 +3.4
6 Jim Sundberg 1984 .261 .332 .399 +3.3
6 Ellie Rodriguez 1972 .285 .382 .352 +3.3
8 Jonathan Lucroy 2013 .281 .334 .497 +3.0
9 Dave Nilsson 1999 .309 .400 .554 +2.9
10 Darrell Porter 1974 .241 .326 .377 +2.6

This year, though, Lucroy is poised to blow that number out of the water with approximately two months remaining to accumulate value. Even as it stands, he already has the eighth-best single season by a Brewers’ catcher. And if he can continue to produce past this season — and there doesn’t seem to be any reason why he shouldn’t be able to produce — he may finish his career as the greatest catcher to ever don a Brewers’ uniform.

That wasn’t even in our collective consciousness a year ago when he signed that five-year contract extension for only $11 million, but it may turn out to be one of the best extensions in Doug Melvin’s tenure in Milwaukee. Jonathan Lucroy has been a real treat to watch develop with the Brewers. It’s time we start recognizing his production for what it’s worth.

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Tell us what do you think.

  1. nels says: August 6, 2013

    he has come on very nicely. I would like to know why certain starting pitchers have chosen others to catch them over lucroy? is there a problem with the way he calls the game or frames pitches?

    The crew has a pretty solid nucleus if they can just find some pitching and get rid of that toad Francisco and dead weight rickie.

    • mattchoo says: August 6, 2013

      the biggest reason, at least for the guys that came up through the minors is because Maldy caught them in the minors and knows their strengths and weaknesses. Thats not to say that Luc COULDNT catch them, but they are more comfy with Maldy back there because they know each other well. Once these younger guys can establish confidence on the major league level anyone will be able to catch them.

    • Bry Jones says: August 6, 2013

      What mattchoo said, as well as the fact that catching is a grueling position. Mauer was one of the (if not the absolute) best at it and his legs couldn’t handle the load day in and day out. Might as well work Maldy in there once a week to keep Luc fresh, especially if a young pitcher is comfortable with him.

    • Gman says: August 6, 2013

      Maldy also appears to provide an important comfort with the Latin throwers, which I think is an important consideration as well.

  2. Jack wendibaunt says: August 7, 2013

    Randall Wolfie DeJoyce was neither hispanic nor young. Wolf has probably had over 20 catchers catch him throughout his career. The fact is Lucroy could not catch him to save his life. Now, I’m a believer in Lucroy, but the fact does remain that he cannot catch certain pitchers for whatever reason, and he is a very poor pitch caller.

    • Ross B says: August 7, 2013

      Do you have any evidence that Lucroy, who is one of the two or three best pitch framers in the MLB, couldn’t catch Wolf? Or that he is a very poor pitch caller? Or are you just a troll who doesn’t even watch the Brewers?

    • dbug says: August 7, 2013

      From everything I have ever read, it sounded like the issue between Wolf and Lucroy was a communication issue, not a performance issue. If that’s the case, then it’s at least 50% on Wolf. Considering nobody else has insisted on throwing to someone else, you can’t really blame Lucroy for that.

  3. Cecil Cooper's Love Child says: August 7, 2013

    Nice article! This is further analysis why there was no need to blow this team up. We are, solid to great, and stable at C, SS, CF, LF, RF, bullpen, SP2, SP3, SP4. We are an ace and 1 corner IF bat from being a playoff contender.

    • The Logical Man says: August 7, 2013

      What are you watching- This team is 17 games under 500- Maybe they can turn to Nashville- Oops they are 30 games under 500. These players aren’t All Stars- Their starting pitching is second worst in N.L.– Please get real

      • dbug says: August 7, 2013

        There’s a lotta talent on this club, Logical Man. The veterans are starting to play back to form and the rookies are developing faster than I thought. There’s two or three potential all-stars in there. I think we’re a first division team right now.

        • Cecil Cooper's Love Child says: August 8, 2013

          Thanks, Coach Brown! My comment is based on the fact no team could survive with their projected 3-5 hitters only playing 30% of the available games.

          That coupled with some early SP woes, led to our predicament. There was no difference between the Brewers and the Pirates in the preseason predictions. Luck and over/under performance happened.

          You can’t tell me that the 2011 Brewers were not fortunate. Yes, that was a better roster, but not 25-30 games better than the projected 2013 lineup.

          • Ross B says: August 8, 2013

            Not 25 games better than the projected lineup, but probably close to that better than the actual lineup.

        • Bratwurst says: August 12, 2013

          Yea Milwaukee is a first division team. Do they brainwash fans in Milwaukee. They are battling the cubs who are adjusting their roster for the future for last place— That is not first division!!!!

    • Big Lance says: August 20, 2013

      Solid to great? Segura/Lucroy/Aoki/Gomez- Good M.L.B. players- Lohse maybe Gallardo proven starters. Far from contenders Cecil

  4. Bratwurst says: August 7, 2013

    Yea- I think Playoffs next year? What????

  5. The Realist says: August 16, 2013

    Man I have to give Brewer Fans credit- They are brainwashed and eat to many polish dogs. Yea they are a first division team right now. Only 17 games under 500- Melvin has these poor people brainwashed.,. It is sad what he has done to this orginization


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