Being a player for the Yankees can be a harrowing experience at times. On occasion, the criticism that fans throw at players is justified. On others, that criticism becomes a way to just express frustration with the team as a whole. The Yankees have had a miserable stretch this second half, and it has fans feeling infuriated about the state of the team. One of the few players who has not been a problem is Lucas Luetge. But for whatever reason, the left-hander does not always get the respect that he should as a valuable contributor in the Yankee bullpen.
In fact, he has been one of the most consistent bullpen arms on the team. Over 42 games in 2022, he has an excellent 2.55 ERA in 49.1 innings pitched. While he has certainly faired better against left-handed batters with only three earned runs over 17.0 innings, and a .275 wOBA allowed, he has done adequately against right-handed batters as well, having allowed a .303 wOBA. Notably, his peripherals match his performance.
Luetge has one of the absolute best hard hit percentages in the entire league along with similarly great average exit velocities on balls hit. Both of these numbers are in the top one or two percent of the league. At the same time, he has a fairly good strikeout percentage (65th percentile), and an even better expected slugging percentage (79th percentile).
However, Luetge stands as an outlier among relievers (and pitchers in general) as someone who throws softly. His average fastball (cutter) sits at about 87.7 mph. That's less than changeup velocity for someone like Gerrit Cole or Luis Severino. Cole’s changeup averages velocity sits at 89.7 mph, a couple mph higher than Luetge’s fastball!
Luetge’s been able to mix and match effectively with his three-pitch repertoire. He has a cutter that he uses 55.8 percent of the time, a slider at 30.2 percent, and a curveball which he brings out 14 percent of the time. Each of these pitches is an average or above average pitch in terms of movement.
His bread and butter pitch, the cutter, features tons of great horizontal movement. His cutter offers 60 percent more horizontal break than the average cutter, with slightly below average vertical drop. His slider offers a similar movement profile. This pitch features 43 percent more horizontal break and four percent greater drop than the average slider.
All of this leads to pitches that have been fairly good in practice. Each of them has provided results that have allowed Luetge to be one of the better relief pitchers in the league.
While he might use the cutter as his foremost pitch, it has been hit around a little bit by opposing teams. However, he has suffered from some amount of bad luck. The batting average on the cutter this year has been .317, but the expected batting average is much lower at .261.
In contrast, his slider has been particularly effective with a .184 batting average. In addition, no one has been able to hit Luetge’s curveball at this point, with an excellent expected batting average of only .048. The pair of secondary offerings allow Luetge to keep opposing batters completely off balance, despite a complete lack of velocity. While Luetge’s fastball struggles to get even within five mph of Jacob deGrom’s slider velocity, hitters have to deal with a trio of pitches that all look similar but behave in slightly different ways, resulting in whiffs and lots of weak contact.
All of this has culminated in suprisingly strong production from the 35-year-old for a second straight season. Luetge deserves all of the praise for managing to provide the Yankees extremely consistent performance, even as the team craters elsewhere. He shouldn’t be an object of ire, even if his tepid velocity gives him the look of a man overmatched on a major league mound. If he continues to pitch like he has, Lucas Luetge, the journeyman, should have a legitimate role to play on the Yankees’ postseason roster.