The brightest spot in Milwaukee this season has been catcher Jonathan Lucroy. After a banner day against the Minnesota Twins that saw him go 3-for-5 with two home runs (one of them a grand slam) and seven RBI, the 25-year-old catcher is now hitting .342/.389/.550 on the season. His .406 wOBA ranks second amongst major league catchers at this point in the season.
How has the Brewers’ catcher transformed himself into a legitimate threat at the plate after hitting only .265/.313/.391 last year? His approach at the plate has been beautiful, and Lucroy has absolutely pounded the baseball up the middle and to the opposite field.
The above hit chart illustrates very clearly that Lucroy has done the vast majority of his damage to center field and right field. In fact, he has hardly pulled the baseball down the left field line at all this year, at least not anywhere close to the wall. Even the majority of his home runs to left field have been more in the left-center gap. The only home run that was legitimately pulled was his first-inning home run off Jason Marquis on Sunday.
Lucroy is currently hitting over .400 to both center field and right field. When taking the baseball to those fields, he tends to wait back on the ball nicely and line the baseball to the opposite field. Yesterday’s grand slam serves as a perfect example of that approach at the plate.
That approach has also allowed Lucroy to cover the plate exceedingly well. His swinging strike rate is down to 5.0% because he controls the entire zone and has been willing to take the baseball where it is pitched. He has not tried to do too much at the plate, which is one of the largest reasons he currently is hitting .552 with runners in scoring position — though that number baffles the mind a little bit.
His ability to cover the entire zone can best be viewed through a heat map of his hot and cold zones in 2012.
That red area spans the vast majority of the strike zone and extends both on the outer edge and off the inner portion of the plate. If you’re an opposing pitcher and you’re studying this heat map, where do you pitch Jonathan Lucroy? Perhaps on the very low-inner portion of the plate, but you best not miss whatsoever, otherwise the pitch falls squarely within his sweet spot and will likely be driven for a base hit.
Lucroy has certainly gotten lucky to a certain extent this season. His two-RBI bloop single against the Minnesota Twins on Sunday epitomizes how everything has gone his way at the plate. His BABIP sits at .374 and will assuredly drop as the season progresses. Still, his 25.2% line drive rate suggests that BABIP will not drop dramatically, and it further illustrates just how well the Brewers’ catcher has been spraying the baseball all over the diamond. If his approach remains consistent and he continues to take the baseball to center and right fields, his numbers will not drop off a cliff, as they did last summer after a very strong start to the season.
It’s easy to forget that Lucroy only played 21 games at Triple-A before being rushed to the big leagues to cover for the injury to Gregg Zaun in 2010. His development was forceably accelerated, and his production at the plate suffered as he tried to learn how to handle a big league pitching staff. Brewers fans had consistently wondered why his major league numbers had not mirrored his minor league numbers. Lucroy said all offseason that his production at the plate would improve this year now that he felt more comfortable defensively and with the Brewers’ pitching staff.
Turns out he was right, though no one imagined that his production at the plate would improve so dramatically.