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

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Less than three weeks to go until Opening Day.

It’s okay to begin getting excited.

Today’s focus in “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers” is unique in that he’s currently not in camp. After all, the idea of this series is to profile players one at a time as their jersey number comes up as we count down to Brewers Opening Day. With the World Baseball Classic going on, there were nine players participating who were going to be profiled in this series. I did several (John Axford, Jim Henderson, Yovani Gallardo, Marco Estrada, Hiram Burgos) before they left to join their WBC teams and I’ll do others after they return (Taylor Green is already back, Martin Maldonado is the day after the WBC ends, Ryan Braun), but today’s subject falls in the window of being gone today.

He is with Team USA and about to begin Pool 2 play in Miami, Florida. He wears number 20 underneath the straps on his catching gear. He is…

JonathanLucroy2

Jonathan Lucroy.

Lucroy is set to once again enter the season as the starting backstop for the Milwaukee Brewers. It’s a title he has held since part way through the 2010 season when he was called up from the minors after the tastefully-named Gregg Zaun was lost to injury. Lucroy began as the backup but quickly assumed the starting role.

For Lucroy though, it’ll only be his second Opening Day. In 2011, Lucroy broke his right pinky finger during normal drills. Last year though Lucroy was behind the plate, catching Gallardo, a spot he figures to be in once again in 2013.

2012 was a season of ups and downs for the now 26-year-old, 6’0″, 195 lb catcher. In late March, the Brewers and Lucroy agreed on a multi-year extension to lock up the promising player. The terms were for five years and at least $11 million but possibly worth up to $13 million depending on Major League Baseball’s cutoff for “Super 2″ players as it relates to arbitration eligibility. If Lucroy were to qualify as a Super Two, he’d earn the additional $2 million.

(If you don’t remember how that worked out, click here.)

Between the now guaranteed money and his statistical peformance (.326/.368/.513, 133 OPS+) in 2012, the ups were certainly high.

But the low point came in the middle of the season and it’s why Lucroy only played in 96 games in 2012.

Remember that 2011 pinky injury? Well, 2012 was not devoid of injury for Lucroy either and unfortunately it happened to the same part of his body.

In a freak accident that can only be described as a tragic coincidence, Lucroy’s fifth metacarpal in his right hand was fractured when his wife accidentally caused a heavy suitcase to drop on his hand. At first, Lucroy thought that the hand was simply bruised, but when he eventually went in for x-rays, the fracture was revealed.

Then, as bad luck would have it, after initially being believed that the fracture would heal on its own, Lucroy ended up needing surgery to insert a pin to hold the bone segments together.

Lucroy was out a day shy of two full months with the surgery, healing, rehab, and minor league games. He even had to celebrate his 26th birthday on the disabled list.

Before the injury, Lucroy was hitting .345/.387/.583 and while nobody ever really expected Lucroy to maintain that pace, even after he returned he still hit .299/.354/.458. The offense appears to be real and after being mentioned among the best in an article all about pitch framing, Lucroy’s receiving is top notch as well. He self-admittedly has just an average throwing arm, but it’s an accurate one so he doesn’t hurt himself.

One more thing to point out about 2012 though is how Lucroy became something of a cult hero for his knack for coming through with runners in scoring position. His .389/.419/.611 line resulted in a sOPS+ of 176. That’s a split where 100 is league average in that situation. And it’s not all that small of a sample size when you consider that he had 106 plate appearances in that situation.

If his career to this point are any indication, fans will be calling out the adopted “LUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUC!” for him for years to come. It’s all about staying healthy though, something that can be tough to expect from a catcher in the first place.

With at most another week away from Ron Roenicke and the Brewers pitchers, Lucroy should have enough time to begin to build a rapport with the pitchers he doesn’t know well yet along with rekindling the same with those he is familiar with.

But as the Louisiana-Lafayette product enters his physical prime, hopefully there is another step forward that he has yet to take.

As Brewers fans, we’re all anxious to see how it everything comes together.

Miss anyone along the way? Catch up on the Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers profiles to this point:

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