If someone told you that the Yankees would receive important contributions from a 34-year-old reliever pitching in the big leagues for the first time in six years, would you have believed that person? I wouldn’t have, but that’s the beauty about baseball: it’s full of surprises, Cinderella stories, and underdogs.
Lucas Luetge, fueled by the Gas Station and its resources and facilities during spring training, managed to significantly increase the spin rate on all his pitches: four-seam fastball, slider, and curveball. Against all odds, he won a roster spot to open the season, and hasn’t relinquished it so far.
Before Tuesday’s game against the Tampa Bay Rays, Luetge has a 3.26 ERA in 19.2 frames, with 19 strikeouts and only three walks. His xERA (2.65) FIP (3.62) xFIP (3.50) and SIERA (3.07) back up his success so far. The most impressive part of Luetge’s season is that he has managed to turn it around after a dubious start. The left-hander allowed earned runs in his first five outings, and had a 6.10 ERA in 10.1 innings on April 16, with an ugly 2.61 HR/9. He had no walks and 12 punchouts over that span, though.
Thankfully, the Yankees stuck with Luetge and decided to trust that BB/K ratio. Over his last nine innings, he has conceded no runs, with three free passes and seven whiffs. He has slowly earned the trust of manager Aaron Boone, and is another reliable arm in a bullpen that has been steady all year.
Obviously, Luetge isn’t 0.00-ERA good. No one is. But he can be a mid-3.00s guy, and for that Yankees, that would be a resounding success. The most impressive part of Luetge’s performance so far is that he is doing while throwing a 89 mph fastball 65 percent of the time. The velocity is, as you can see, underwhelming, but the pitch is hard to hit because of its 96th percentile spin rate.
In fact, except for the velocity, Statcast loves Luetge’s profile:
He is very, very hard to square up, as evidenced by his 96th percentile hard-hit rate and 94th percentile average exit velocity. He is also comfortably above average in limiting walks and getting hitters to chase outside the strike zone.
Luetge’s go-to breaking ball so far has been the slider, which he throws approximately 25 percent of the time. Yet, his best secondary offering results-wise has been the curveball, which has a 71.4 percent whiff rate compared to the slider’s pedestrian 24.2 percent. Maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea for Luetge to throw more curveballs and fewer sliders. The hook isn’t what you would call a power curve, coming in at an average of 75 mph, but its 2,734 spin rate is in the 79th percentile.
Luetge can get called strikes with his curveball …
Lucas Luetge shuts down Franmil Reyes to end the 5th pic.twitter.com/X4iK8YmAii— Pinstripe Strong (@PinstripeStrong) April 24, 2021
… or bury it in the dirt for swinging strikes:
Phenomenal curveball from Lucas Luetge pic.twitter.com/82aLW3qNVA— Nick Pollack (@PitcherList) April 27, 2021
The fact that we are discussing ways for Luetge to improve his big league numbers is a small miracle. With work, discipline, and the team’s resources, he turned himself into a good middle reliever capable of getting outs in the biggest of stages.
Luetge is a perfectly fine reliever as things stand, and he has been an amazing find for a Yankees bullpen that needed an arm like his.