The Revelation of Lucas Luetge

Lucas Luetge
Spread the love

The New York Yankees have had a disappointing 2021 season to this point by their standards. With a 34-32 record and -6 run differential, entering play Wednesday, this team has played far worse than expected. While much of their struggles have come from the offense, the team as a whole has struggled to play consistent baseball. However, the bullpen has remained excellent as usual. With a combined 3.20 ERA, 2.8 fWAR, 25.6% strikeout rate, and 3.60 SIERA, the bullpen has been one of the best in the sport. The progress made by Jonathan Loaisiga has been covered in depth but it is not just him that has carried the bullpen. Chad Green and Aroldis Chapman have been fantastic, with Wandy Peralta and Luis Cessa pitching solid innings here and there. One of the biggest bullpen storylines this season has been Lucas Luetge.

Six Years

The 34-year old lefty from Texas was the last pitcher added to the 26-man roster at the start of the season. He came to the Yankees on a minor-league contract over the offseason. This is similar to players like Jay Bruce, Derek Dietrich, and Robinson Chirinos. However, unlike those players, Luetge was an afterthought. Granted, Luetge had not thrown a pitch in the major leagues since 2015. Due to injuries and poor performance, he had just been toiling in the minors for the last several seasons. To the surprise of many, he had a fantastic 2021 spring training. In combining that with an injury to Zack Britton, Luetge was in prime position to make the opening day roster.

Pitcher Profile

At 6-foot 4-inches, Lucas Luetge just adds to the numerous tall pitchers on the Yankees roster. He primarily throws a cutter, slider, and curveball. However, the cutter and slider are his two primary pitches as he only throws the curveball 12.2% of the time. With an average cutter speed of 88.6 mph and slider speed of 82.1 mph, Luetge is not a hard thrower whatsoever. Despite this, the elite spin rate on all of his pitches is why the Yankees like him. The spin rate on his cutter is 2,608 RPM, his slider has an average of 2,822 RPM, and 2,737 RPM on his curveball. The spin on his cutter ranks in the 96th percentile in baseball, and his curve spin in the 79th percentile. Luetge throws his cutter 60.8% of the time and his slider 26.7% of the time.

Along with these numbers, Luetge has proven to be a valuable asset to this bullpen in multiple ways. One of the ways is as a long reliever, as he has thrown multiple innings in 12 of his 23 appearances. The other way is his ability to get both lefties and righties out. Righties have posted a .603 OPS against him while lefties have posted a .622 OPS. It makes that sense he is effective against both because his arsenal helps make him split-proof. He attacks righties in with the cutter and down-and-in with his slider or curveball. Meanwhile, he attacks lefties away with his pitches. Thus, not only can Luetge pitch multiple innings, but he is also split-proof, further boosting his value to that bullpen.

Luetge’s Excellence and Role in the Yankees Bullpen

Lucas Luetge will not win any reliever accolades because he is not a high-leverage reliever. However, it is only a matter of time before Aaron Boone pitches Luetge in more high-leverage situations. Per Baseball-Reference, he has only entered two games considered to be high-leverage, compared to eight games with medium-leverage, and 12 games in low-leverage situations. This just goes to show that Luetge’s results have not come in the most intense parts of the game. However, he has had a fantastic season to this point. In 32 1/3 innings, Luetge has put up a 2.78 ERA, 3.28 FIP, 0.93 WHIP, and 33 strikeouts to four walks. The latter figure makes up a K/BB ratio of 8.32, which is nothing short of elite. Outside of his first five appearances, in which he allowed seven runs in 10 1/3 innings, Luetge’s last 22 innings pitched have amounted to a 1.23 ERA.

On a pitch-by-pitch basis, Luetge’s best pitch is his cutter. Batters are hitting .215 with a .367 SLG against his cutter. While his slider has not been good this year, .346 average and .577 SLG, he has not allowed a hit on his curveball all year. Among his 60 curveballs thrown his year, he has a 52.6% whiff rate and 29.4% put away rate. Maybe the key to Luetge getting even better is throwing his slider less and curve more.

Final Thoughts

As with most depth relievers, only time will tell if they can eventually be trusted to pitch high-leverage innings. Chad Green and Jonathan Loaisiga are two pitchers who transformed from depth arms into setup relievers. One of the issues with pushing Luetge into high-leverage situations is the risk of him not performing as well. It is about finding a balance between what the pitcher is most comfortable with and how to get the best out of that pitcher. Similar to Luis Cessa, Luetge is one of Boone’s go-to long relievers that can also occasionally pitch an inning or two in a tie game. Lucas Luetge has been a revelation for the 2021 Yankees. With an already stacked bullpen, the Yankees were not counting on Luetge to be as good as he has been. However, given that Luetge is split-proof and has the ability to pitch multiple innings, he will play a big role in this bullpen throughout the season.

Players mentioned: Jonathan Loaisiga, Chad Green, Aroldis Chapman, Wandy Peralta, Luis Cessa, Lucas Luetge, Jay Bruce, Derek Dietrich, Robinson Chirinos, Zack Britton, Aaron Boone

Main Photo: Embed from Getty Images