Thanks to his breakout 2014 season, Jonathan Lucroy is quickly supplanting Ryan Braun as the face of the Milwaukee Brewers franchise.
Before his overturned positive PED test in 2012 and suspension as a result of the Biogenesis scandal last year, it would’ve been unimaginable that anybody would pass Braun as the franchise’s most valuable player. After all, Braun – who signed a contract extension in April 2011 to keep him with the team until 2020 – appeared to be the long-awaited successor to Robin Yount in Milwaukee, a Hall of Fame-caliber player who spent his entire career in the smallest market in baseball.
Though Braun still receives plenty of support from the Miller Park faithful, the fallout of the Biogenesis scandal has left him as one of the most reviled figures in Major League Baseball, constantly drawing boos any time he plays outside of Milwaukee. It’s difficult for a franchise to garner significant respect or support outside of its fan base when its cornerstone player is perceived as a deceitful cheater, so the Brewers needed someone to step up and take the mantle.
Enter Jonathan Lucroy.
Lucroy has been a steady contributor to the Brewers over the past several seasons, but started showed signs of his true potential in 2012. Though he spent significant time on the DL that year with a broken hand, Lucroy still posted an impressive .320/.368/.513 slash line in 96 games played. He was also one of the most opportunistic hitters in baseball that year, hitting .389 with five home runs and 50 RBIs in 95 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
Though his numbers in 2013 didn’t match up to the prior season, he still had a very respectable .280/.340/.455 slash line and put up career-highs in both home runs (18) and RBIs (82). He also became manager Ron Roenicke’s favorite option in the No. 3 spot in the batting order after Braun’s suspension, where he posted a .283/.353/.400 line.
His defense has always been solid as well, as he possesses a decent arm, having improved his percentage of runners caught stealing each year. He is also solid at blocking pitches in the dirt, but it’s his pitch framing that really sets him apart.
According to StatCorner.com, Lucroy has been among the league leaders in framing runs above average (RAA) throughout his career, ranking in the top five in each of his five seasons, including first in both 2011 and 2013. However, it wasn’t until this year that Lucroy really made a name for himself, as he’s now gone from being one of the MLB’s most underrated catchers to a legitimate MVP contender.
So far in 2014, Lucroy is hitting .303/.369/.489 with 13 home runs and 58 RBIs and is tied for the major league lead with 40 doubles. Not only does he have a chance of breaking Lyle Overbay’s single-season club record of 53 doubles, but he also could become the first catcher in MLB history to lead his league in doubles.
His fWAR of 4.6 ranks 11th in the MLB and his rWAR of 5.2 is 13th, both of which are the best among all catchers. Not only has he put together a statistically outstanding season that earned him a spot in the starting lineup of the All-Star Game, but he also has rose to the occasion time and time again when the team has needed a big hit.
Lucroy is batting .373 in late and close situations, and has helped create some of the most memorable moments of the season for the first-place Brewers, including a walk-off home run against the Reds and a go-ahead grand slam against the Diamondbacks after Arizona intentionally beaned Braun to load the bases.
All of that makes Lucroy a strong candidate to be the face of the Brewers, but he still wouldn’t be able to stake a claim to that title if it weren’t for the overwhelming fan support he’s received in Milwaukee. If you need proof of how beloved he is by Brewers fans, just listen to the chants of “Luuuuuuuuuuuuc” that boom around Miller Park every time he comes up with a big hit.
While Braun is still a very productive player and will continue to be supported in Milwaukee, the passionate fans of the small-market Brewers needed someone less polarizing to embody the spirit of their beloved team.
Thanks to Jonathan Lucroy, they have once again found a true face of the franchise.