By now, every Yankees fan knows Lucas Luetge’s story. Originally drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 21st round of the 2008 MLB Draft, he made his major league debut with the Seattle Mariners on April 7th, 2012, after being selected by them in the Rule 5 Draft. He would fail to impress across four seasons in Seattle, and would spend the next six years as a minor league journeyman, spending time in the Angels, Reds, Orioles, Diamondbacks, and Athletics. He received an invitation to spring training with the New York Yankees prior to the 2021 season, and well, you’ve seen the rest. He made the team, and at the age of 34, has been in the middle of a career renaissance.
While he wasn’t quite as dominant in 2022 as he was last year, Luetge announced to the world that his comeback was no fluke.
2022 Statistics: 50 games, 57.1 IP, 2.67 ERA, 3.02 FIP, 9.4 K/9, 2.7 BB/9, 0.9 fWAR
2023 Contract Status: Second year of arbitration
When you think of the pitchers that made the Yankees bullpen what it was this year, the names that come to mind are Clay Holmes, Jonathan Loáisiga, and Wandy Peralta. Luetge, noticeably, is not on that list; in fact, he did not make a single appearance in the postseason and was left off the ALCS roster in favor of Frankie Montas. Because of this, you’d be forgiven for forgetting just how effective Luetge looked at times this year. Armed with a new sweeping slider — a pitch that was all the rage this year — he proved to be a master of generating soft contact despite his fastball (described by Statcast as a cutter) averaging just 87.6 mph.
Over the course of the year, Luetge’s usage varied considerably, both in terms of role and how often he came into the game. Aaron Boone regularly called upon him for multiple innings, with 16 of his 50 appearances going for more than one inning (including a 3.1 inning scoreless outing on July 8th). When the high-leverage arms were unavailable, he was brought in with the game on the line and asked for big outs, although he was prone to the big inning when he came in with traffic on the basepaths. And then sometimes, he didn’t pitch at all, going more than a week between appearances on five separate occasions as the Yankees used their big guns in the high-leverage spots and the bottom of the bullpen when innings simply needed to be eaten.
Where Luetge fits on the Yankees headed into 2023 remains to be seen. He’s quietly has been one of the steadiest relievers in baseball over the last two years, with his 2.2 fWAR in that span tied with Michael King, Clay Holmes, Dylan Floro, and Reynaldo Lopez for 24th among relievers with at least 80 innings pitched in that span. At the same time, he is entering arbitration for this first time this winter and will be 36 years old on Opening Day. While relievers, particularly those who don’t rely on their velocity, are able to age gracefully, I can easily see the Yankees flipping Luetge to make room for young arms capable of riding the Scranton Shuttle. No matter what Luetge’s future holds, however, he will always be remembered fondly for his last two years as a rock solid member of a Yankees bullpen that has constantly been in flux but has nonetheless remained dominant.