Jonathan Lucroy should start more often at 1B with Aramis Ramirez out

Jeffrey Phelps

The Brewers are not in a great spot right now as far as the bench goes, but playing Jonathan Lucroy at first base could go a long way towards optimizing the lineup.

Aramis Ramirez seems to be doing a little better as he recovers from a strained left hamstring. He's walking without pain, at least, according to Adam McCalvy. He has also been doing some light throwing. Still, it does not look like he will be activated from the DL when first eligible a week from Monday.

That means there may still be at least a week of the Brewers being forced to work with Lyle Overbay or Jeff Bianchi in the lineup. Jeff Bianchi, who has a .336 OPS this season and Lyle Overbay, who has a 576 OPS on the year and five hits in 34 at-bats this month.

The reason for those two being in the lineup is ostensibly because they provide defense. At least in the case of Bianchi, that may be true-ish. But any defense they provide is negated entirely and then some by the sheer fact that they can't hit worth a lick.

Of course, the other reason they are in the lineup so often is because they are about the only choices to play the infield on the current roster. Elian Herrera can, but he's been busy helping out in the outfield and despite a recent hot streak isn't a capable hitter, either. There is one other option, though. It's one the Brewers have used just once this season, and one they should use more often. Jonathan Lucroy should play first base nearly every day while Ramirez is out as Mark Reynolds takes over third base duties.

If the Brewers are going to go with defensive proficiency, it doesn't make a lot of sense to roll out Overbay at first base when he just hasn't looked good there. Despite limited time playing the position, Lucroy should be plenty adequate.

In the meantime, Milwaukee gets a much stronger defender than either Bianchi or Overbay in the lineup in the form of Martin Maldonado. This season, his catcher's ERA (albeit in just eight games at the position) is a wicked 2.53. Last year, he stood at 3.13. Maldonado throws out a third of baserunners, as well, and is supremely capable at blocking pitches in the dirt as well as being very good at pitch framing.

I also firmly believe that Maldonado's work with Wily Peralta over the last year-and-a-half has helped Peralta become the pitcher he is this year. Peralta has fared much better with Maldonado behind the plate in his career. Despite Lucroy now taking most Peralta starts, I think the time Maldonado put in with Peralta really developed the young righty.

I say all this despite not being all that high on Maldonado in general. He's a capable back-up catcher because of his defense, but can't hit enough to earn consistent playing time. But, hell, the guy is hitting for a 1.084 OPS this season, somehow (10 games played, though, remember).

Even if Maldonado reverts back to his old self at the plate (he probably would/will), his career .230/.295/.369 batting line is as good or better than I would expect from Bianchi or Overbay right now.

Lucroy would still get a couple of starts at catcher while Ramirez is out, of course, but keeping him at first for a short time also will help keep his knees fresh for the long haul this season. If he shows he can handle it over the next week, the Brewers could also have him play first when Mark Reynolds needs a break. Though he's played first just once this season, he made over a dozen appearances at the position in 2013.

The Brewers have been winning with pitching this year, but they still need to score more runs than their opponents, something they have been loathe to do lately. Lucroy at first and Maldonado at catcher is at worst going to provide the same production at the plate as playing Bianchi or Overbay. It will also provide an optimized defense, given the current roster makeup.

The other, similar, similar option is to have Maldonado at first base while Lucroy stays at catcher, but I think Maldonado is the better defensive player behind the plate. Furthermore, as I said earlier this would allow Lucroy to give his knees a rest from crouching every game.

Basically, what it boils down to is who would you rather see in the lineup given Mark Reynolds and Jonathan Lucroy will be somewhere: Jeff Bianchi, Lyle Overbay or Martin Maldonado? All three have flaws, but of them I would take Maldonado easily.

Of course, if Lucroy were to take over back-up first base duties while the platoon slowly disintegrates, there's really no reason to keep Overbay on the roster at all. It's a win-win-win situation.

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