When the A's signed Jonathan Lucroy back in March, they knew they were getting a solid defensive catcher with a stellar reputation for working with pitching staffs. But the 32-year-old veteran has proven even more valuable than they ever imagined.
Through all the injuries to Oakland's starting pitchers, including nine DL stints and four Tommy John surgeries, Lucroy has held the rotation together. The A's have had to use 13 different starting pitchers, second only to the Rays (and let's be honest, they don't really count since they have decided to start relievers). In comparison, the first-place Astros have used the same five starters the entire season.
"He's a true quarterback and leader behind the plate," A's manager Bob Melvin said of Lucroy. "The younger (pitchers) don't even think about shaking him off because he's so well prepared."
"He's a student of the game," added starting pitcher Mike Fiers, who played five seasons with Lucroy in Milwaukee. "He does his homework before every game."
Lucroy has helped the A's to a team ERA of 3.83, fourth best in the American League. That's especially impressive considering that 60 percent of the starting rotation began the season in the minor leagues. So what's Lucroy's secret?
"I try to get them to simplify as much as I can," he said. "I've caught a lot of guys who overanalyze things and make it harder on themselves than it should be. I just get them to worry about execution and throwing strikes. That's it. ... The more you simplify it, the more you just throw strikes, get ahead of hitters, and execute, the more successful you're going to be."
Lucroy has also helped the pitching staff with his arm, throwing out 20 would-be base stealers this season, tied for the most in MLB. He has been extremely durable, starting 88 games at catcher to lead the AL. But perhaps his biggest impact has been in the clubhouse.
"Since the day he got here, he's been one of the bigger personalities and one of the leaders of the team," Melvin praised. "He has just been a great addition."
"There are no egos in here," Lucroy said. "Guys are pretty humble and down to earth. There's no one player in here who wants more attention than anybody else. We don't even want attention. We just want to go out and play hard and win. ... I've never been on a team that's like that before, where it's been so prevalent throughout the clubhouse, that same kind of train of thought. It's pretty cool to see and be a part of. I think that's one of the biggest reasons why we're successful."