People like sports for all sorts of reasons. There’s something to be said about the entertainment, the competition and the fame. Taking into account all of that, one of the things that connects a sport, in this case baseball, with life is the constant presence of storylines.
Those come in every shape, from a kid in high school who catches the spotlight of the entire country with his generational talent in Bryce Harper, to a guy who retires from the sport at an early age because of the yips, only to successfully complete a comeback several years later and become a major league closer in Daniel Bard.
Out of that is born a sense of wonder, of possibility and relatability. You feel like anyone has a shot. The 2021 New York Yankees have a player in their bullpen that brings all of that to mind, and his name is Lucas Luetge.
The 6-foot-4 left hander out of Brenham, Texas took the mound for the Yankees at the beginning of the season in a major league game after a strong showing in spring training for the first time since a scoreless appearance for the Seattle Mariners in 2015, his sole one that year. That’s a six year gap.
The first thing that comes to mind is that maybe he retired and after a while felt like there was still something left in the tank but that’s not exactly what happened. Take a look at his transactions page and a pattern will emerge. After getting released from the Mariners, Luetge signed several minor league deals that ended with him being granted free agency across five different teams.
When Luetge agreed to a minor league deal with the Yankees in December, there wasn’t much there in terms of expectations. However, spring training came and went, and when the dust had settled on Grapefruit League action, he had thrown 10.1 innings of work and compiled 18 strikeouts.
That earned him a spot on the Opening Day roster. September is coming and one thing is clear — that move paid off big time for the Yankees. While not overwhelming, Luetge transitioned into being one of the more reliable arms out of the pen relying primarily on a pitch that wasn’t even a part of his arsenal during his days with the Mariners.
Here is the pitch usage for Luetge in 2021:
Cutter 59.5 percent
Slider 25.8 percent
Curveball 14.6 percent
Four seam fastball 0.1 percent
That cutter has been the foundation of his success — he shelved the sinker, and the four-seamer is nearly non-existent. As Josh Donaldson learned, Luetge’s cutter can even be enough to fool former MVPs:
Lucas Luetge, Beautiful 90mph Back Door Cutter. ✂️ pic.twitter.com/J0E4e9kq9C— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) June 11, 2021
Although their arsenals are different and there’s some variation between the two pitches the best comp you’ll find for Luetge’s cutter is with the one that A.J. Minter deploys in Atlanta. It’s not a coincidence that those two lead all left-handers in horizontal movement with it. That’s true no matter how you look at it.
Minter: 5.1 Luetge: 4.8
Movement vs Avg
Minter: 3.2 Luetge: 2
Movement % Break vs Avg
Minter: 162 Luetge: 74
Their spin rate and velocity are also pretty similar. It’s not common to see a lefty relying primarily on the cutter, much less one that complements with a couple of breaking balls, the slider and curveball. Everything is going to the glove side.
The curveball especially has served as a big put away pitch with phenomenal results so far:
3 Hits (all singles)
12 Batted Ball Events
Overall, Luetge has been at the top of the leaderboards in limiting hard contact and walks while also bolstering a superb chase rate.
Hard Hit%: 94th (30.5)
xwOBA: 78th (.283)
BB%: 96th (4.5)
Chase Rate%: 93rd (33.2)
Bullpen production is hard to predict, and there’s no telling what the long term future holds for Lucas Luetge. At least for 2021, Brian Cashman found a bargain and reignited a career for a player that had been wading in the depths of the minors for years. That’s as good of a success story as you can ask for.