8/21/2014 12:50 P.M. ET
Lucroy in thick of NL MVP Award conversation
Doubles machine posting record-breaking numbers at premium position
By Adam McCalvy / MLB.com
MILWAUKEE -- Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy wants no part of the question, but we posed it anyway.
Does he consider himself a contender for the National League Most Valuable Player Award?
"Someone else was asking me that the other night, and I said, 'Look, man, I don't care,'" Lucroy said. "It doesn't matter right now. None of that stuff is going to come if we don't win. That's cool, great and dandy, whatever. That's great for an individual.
"Honestly, I want that ring, man. That's what I want. Period."
The Brewers will continue their quest for that ring on Friday with a chance to help sink the struggling Pirates. But with just shy of six weeks remaining in the regular season, the individual awards races are also heating up around baseball.
Whatever your preferred metric, Lucroy is at minimum in the conversation for the NL MVP Award.
By wins above replacement, a measure of Lucroy's value over someone from the Minor Leagues or the bench, Lucroy (5.2) ranks fourth in the Baseball-Reference.com ranking, behind Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw (6.2) and three hitters: the Marlins' Giancarlo Stanton (6.1), the Braves' Jason Heyward (5.9) and the Rockies' Troy Tulowitzki (5.6). Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto and Lucroy are tied with a 5.2 bWAR.
Lucroy is in similar position in WAR as measured by Fangraphs.com, tied for fourth with Heyward at 4.7, trailing Kershaw and Stanton (5.2) and teammate Carlos Gomez (4.8).
Fangraphs.com WAR Ranking
Lucroy also fares well in win probability added, a cumulative measure of a player's positive and negative impact on individual plays in a game. Lucroy is seventh there, trailing Stanton, the Pirates' Andrew McCutchen, the Giants' Hunter Pence, the Pirates' Neil Walker, the Cardinals' Adam Wainwright and Kershaw.
That Lucroy is the only catcher on any of those lists, and the only position player currently toiling for a first-place team, raises a series of questions for members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, whose vote determines each league's MVP:
• Has Kershaw been so spectacular this season that he warrants both the NL MVP Award and the NL Cy Young Award? No NL pitcher has won both since Bob Gibson in 1968, though it's been more common in the American League, where Justin Verlander was the last to win both in 2011.
• Has Stanton been so productive in traditional categories (he leads the NL with 32 home runs and 89 RBIs) that he warrants the NL MVP Award regardless of the Marlins' postseason fate? They are 63-63, four games out of the second NL Wild Card spot. Only twice in the past nine seasons (Cardinals' Albert Pujols in 2008 and Phillies' Ryan Howard in '06) has an NL MVP Award winner's team not made the playoffs.
• Does Lucroy get bonus points for playing a premium position? That was one of several factors that helped Giants catcher Buster Posey get the edge over Ryan Braun in 2012.
"I mean, how often can you get a catcher that can do what he can do, defensively and offensively?" said Brewers manager Ron Roenicke.
The Brewers view Lucroy as elite, which is why they have only occasionally used him so far at first base, a position the team has had trouble filling since Prince Fielder departed via free agency following the 2011 season. When asked recently whether the club would consider moving Lucroy to first full-time in the coming offseason, when Milwaukee will again face a vacancy there, Roenicke's answer was "no."
"I agree, there's an argument for [a move someday]," Roenicke said. "The thing is, you take an All-Star catcher, you move him to first, he's not an All-Star anymore."
As a catcher, Lucroy's level of production is rare.
• Lucroy's .858 OPS is 10th in the NL, fueled not by home runs (he has 13, to go with a .303 average, the best walk-to-strikeout ratio in the NL and 59 RBIs) but by a knack for knocking doubles. He is bidding to become the first primary catcher in modern Major League history to lead his league in doubles, and he is currently the front-runner for both leagues with 42.
That's a record pace. Hall of Fame-hopeful Ivan Rodriguez holds the all-time doubles record for a player who spent at least half of his time at catcher in a season. Rodriguez hit 47 doubles in 1996. Lucroy is five away.
Most Doubles By a Catcher (Season)
• Rodriguez hit 45 of those doubles while playing catcher, another MLB record. The NL record is 35 doubles as a catcher, set by the Cardinals' Yadier Molina last season. Lucroy has hit 35 doubles so far while playing the position (also six as a first baseman and one as a designated hitter). The Brewers have 35 regular-season games remaining.
Lucroy chalks up his knack for extra-base hits to his father, Steve, a former third baseman who passed up an opportunity to play professional baseball, Jonathan said, to get married and raise a family. He wound up playing professional softball instead.
"My whole life, I've tried to stay up the middle, go the other way," Jonathan Lucroy said. "I'll pull stuff every now and then. If a guy is pitching me in, I'll obviously make the adjustment. But for the most part, I don't like to deviate from my approach very much, so I try to hit the ball up the middle. If you're a little early, you pull it; if you're a little late, you go the other way."
That all-field approach has been the key to Lucroy's ascent as an offensive threat, Roenicke said Wednesday morning. When the conversation turned to the budding NL MVP Award race, a reporter suggested that Roenicke probably does not care about such matters at the moment.
"Yeah, you're right," Roenicke said with a smile.
"He's having a really good year. He's been a huge part of what we're doing. Later on, if you want to, we can get into that. But we've got a long way to go."
The "we" remains Lucroy's focus as well.
"It's so much easier for me as an individual to play when the team is good," Lucroy said. "Do you know how hard it is to play well when your team is not good? It's not easy. I care. I care very much, and I want to win, period."