Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers: #20 Jonathan Lucroy

Today is St. Patrick’s Day in the United States of America, but at least as important, if not more so, is the fact that today is 20 days away from Opening Day!

You read that correctly. There are less than three weeks to go, Brewer Nation!

Today while you’re likely out partaking in some adult beverages and/or watching the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament’s Round of 32, be safe. Getting hurt (or God forbid worse) simply isn’t worth missing out of Opening Day.

But sometimes playing it safe can’t keep you injury free and you might miss Opening Day after all.

Such was the case last spring with today’s subject:

Jonathan Lucroy.

During a normal drill during Spring Training last year, Jonathan Charles Lucroy broke the pinkie finger on his throwing hand. (Lucroy bats and throws right-handed.) It caused Lucroy to begin the year on the disabled list as Wil Nieves and George Kottaras began the season as the two catchers on the 25-man roster.

Lucroy was reinstated to the active roster on April 10th and immediately worked back into the starting role. He had a nine-game hitting streak to begin the season once he got back to Milwaukee and was named the team’s Player of the Month for May.

Overall for the year, Lucroy batted .265/.313/.391, in 430 at-bats over 136 games (114 starts). He scored 45 runs, drove in 59, and totaled 114 hits (16 doubles, 1 triple, 12 home runs) while striking out 99 times and only walking 29 times.

More important for a catcher though is how he performs defensively. In that regard, the Brewers had a 3.63 ERA when he caught (1043.2 innings, 421 earned runs) and went 68-46 when he started. Lucroy threw out 21 of 98 runners attempting to steal, good for a 21.4% rate.

What’s more is that there have been more than a couple of articles written over the winter about Lucroy’s ability to frame pitches and help get borderline strike calls for his pitchers.

He was also inserted late in games which he did not start to pair up with the late-inning relievers. He is much more defensively sound than George Kottaras and those late changes helped evidence that.

Lucroy joked at one point during the season that he was the closer off the bench for the closers in the bullpen.

Back to the bat, Lucroy is having by far the best Spring Training of his career. Coming into today, Lucroy is batting .571 (12-of-21) and slugging .857 by way of three doubles and a home run. He’s also recorded his first Cactus League stolen base.

It’s been related by the beat writers that Lucroy has really taken well to the instruction from first year Brewers hitting coach Johnny Narron. If the results in the regular season and over the course of the long summer reflect the improvements he’s made so far, it’ll be a banner year for third year big-leaguer at the plate.

If there is any knock on the way Lucroy has performed to this point in his career, it’s in the fact that he is only the starting catcher 80% of the time. He might get more days off than that of course with day games following night games, or the occasional double-header, but he’s only the #1 option for four of the five starting pitchers in Milwaukee’s rotation.

That’s not entirely Lucroy’s fault, of course, but the face remains that he and left-handed starter Randy Wolf have been unable to get on the same page. Wolf likes to pitch a game a certain way. He has a very specific game plan and knows what he wants to throw in any situation. Lucroy hasn’t gotten it yet. He needs to work harder to be able to catch Wolf and not force manager Ron Roenicke into having to catch Kottaras  (or more accurately “not Lucroy”) against tough left-handed pitchers.

Lucroy and Wolf have been paired together this spring and it seems to be working well enough so far. Having said all that, every catcher not named Jason Kendall needs some days off and catching Kottaras every fifth day all the time at least helps keeps Lucroy fresher.

As for being on the club on Opening Day, things are looking good for Lucroy there as well. Getting the start on the mound on Opening Day will likely be Yovani Gallardo, one of the four that Lucroy catches.

What all that means is that when Miller Park announcer Rob Edwards is rattling off the members of the Milwaukee Brewers prior to first pitch 20 days from now, it’ll be Lucroy’s name he calls out in the batting order as “in the bullpen” while he’s warming up Gallardo.

It may be a small thing, but making your first Opening Day roster means something to a ballplayer. But there’s something special about Opening Day.

For Jonathan Lucroy, it doesn’t signifying anything that we don’t already know. He’s the starting catcher and will be so for the majority of 2012.

But you just never know what it might mean to the individual. Hopefully in 20 days, we’ll find out what it means for Lucroy together.

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