Jonathan Lucroy has been a steady cog on the Brewers since 2011, his first full season in the major leagues. Lucroy enjoyed success, posting a .703 OPS and a 90 OPS+ in 468 plate appearances. He was a smooth operator behind the plate. Pitchers pitched to a 3.63 ERA in when he was their backstop in 2011.
Lucroy's catching abilities with a sprinkle of offense landed him the starting job with the Brewers. He produced three steady seasons, only missing time due to injury in 2012. From 2011 to 2013, Lucroy was a .285 hitter while averaging 14 homers and 66 RBI per season. His .785 OPS and 112 OPS+ suggested that he was an above-average hitter. His defense, much underrated, continued to be superb.
Fast forward to now. Lucroy was just named first-half National League MVP by Jon Morosi of CBSSports.com. On the year, Lucroy is hitting .326/.396/.511 with nine home runs and 44 RBI before the All-Star break. His defense, which was underrated in the past, is coming out as just as good of an attribute as his offense. He leads all catchers with seven defensive runs saved. When he is catching, Brewers pitching has a 3.66 ERA. He also has caught 28% of runners trying to steal (27% is MLB average).
How did Lucroy break out offensively after all this time? The answer is quite simple: he walks more often.
This season, Jonathan Lucroy has better plate discipline. He swings at just 30% of pitches outside the strike zone, a good 2.1% lower than his career average, and 1.6% lower than last season. Lucroy is seeing just as many pitches inside the strike zone, with only a 0.1% drop over his last season. Even seeing just as many pitches inside the strike zone, Lucroy's walk percentage has spiked, from 7.9% last season to 10.3% this year. It is all because he has developed better discipline when at the dish.
His success could also be attributed to luck. He has posted a mile-high .348 BABIP, well above his career .314 mark. Back in 2012, when Lucroy had his best offensive season to at that time, his BABIP was .338. However, Lucroy is better this season than in 2012, posting an OBP nearly 30 points higher, while minting similar power numbers (.185 isolated power in 2014; .193 isolated power in 2012).
With better plate discipline comes more walks, but less strikeouts also come, which holds true in Lucroy's case. In 2011, when Lucroy first got his full taste into the big leagues, becoming the Brewers starting catcher, his strikeout rate was a whopping 21.2%. Over 20% of his plate appearances ended with a strikeout. His walk rate? A pretty low 6.2%. In 2011, Lucroy posted the lowest OPS+ and wRC+ of his career (min. 300 plate appearances). Now, his strikeout rate is a down-to-earth 10.9%.
Lucroy may have not had to make any adjustments to improve his play. It may have just come with age and experience. Of the 18 rookies this season to have over 180 plate appearances thus far, only Yangervis Solarte and Kolten Wong have strikeout rates below 17%. Of the 18 rookies, 11 have strikeout rates over 20%. So Lucroy may not have had to change anything in his approach, he just may be more used to big league pitching now more than ever.