Who is Lucas Luetge? A Deep-Dive into the Yankees’ Surprise Spring Star

Who is Lucas Luetge? A Deep-Dive into the Yankees’ Surprise Spring Star

by April 1, 2021 0 comments

The New York Yankees’ Opening Day roster is in, and if you sat out Spring Training, then there is one name that will surprise you. That is none other than Lucas Luetge, who will also have people pronouncing his name wrong (Baseball-Reference has it as LIT-KEY).

You may recognize the name if you are a hardcore Mariners fan. Luetge was a left-handed specialist for Seattle in 2012 and 2013, while also appearing in games for them in each of the next two seasons. A fun fact about him is that he is also childhood friends with NFL wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

A Rule-5 pick from Milwaukee leading up to 2012, Luetge is now 34 and sees himself on an MLB roster for the first time in six years, and on a serious contender, nonetheless. So, how did he do it?

It has been a long road back to the majors for the six-foot-four southpaw. We last saw Luetge in regular-season baseball back in 2019, when he split the season for Jackson and Reno, the AA and AAA affiliates of the Diamondbacks. Combined, he struck out 74 with a 2.38 ERA in 68 innings, which opened some eyes. He decided to sign with the A’s for the following season. In 2020 Spring Training (before it was canceled), Luetge did not make his mark, allowing three runs with five strikeouts in six innings, and he did not appear for Oakland in the 60 game 2020 season. He then signed with the Yankees on December 11th of 2020, on a minor league contract. Here is where the comeback story of Luetge kicks off.

Luetge made his mark from the get-go on Yankees Spring Training, reminding fans of 2020 starting pitchers J.A. Happ and James Paxton, thanks to his left arm, his bald head, and his pitching mannerisms. But after that, the focus on Luetge moved to his play. He struck out 10 batters in his first four innings, allowing just two hits. His scoreless streak ended on March 21st thanks to home runs from Toronto’s Kevin Smith and Teoscar Hernandez, but the overall stats were still strong. As camp closed, Luetge headed north to New York, with a 1.74 ERA, 18 strikeouts, eight hits allowed, and two walks in 10.1 innings. You could write it off as Spring Training luck, but the Yankees are not a team to buy into Spring Training performances too much. There are legitimate reasons to believe that Luetge is ready for the Major Leagues.

The Statcast era is known to be from the 2015 season to the present day, and since Luetge has played in just one game over that time period, his advanced metrics are not really accessible. From that one 2015 game, Luetge had a five-pitch mix, all with mediocre spin rates and below-average velocity. This year in Spring Training, his pitches have condensed into three: a fastball, a slider, and a curveball.

Maxing out at 92 mph and averaging around 90, Luetge’s fastball is by no means a heater. But, the pitch has an elite spin rate. The highest rate per minute (rpm) on one of Luetge’s heaters this spring was 2976. That would be elite for a curveball. For a fastball, a pitch that almost always has less spin, that is otherworldly. Overall, his fastball averaged well over 2600 rpm.

Looking at 2020’s fastball spin rate leaders, Trevor Bauer, Lucas Sims, and Corbin Burnes are at the top of the league. Sims had a 2771 rpm average spin rate, while Bauer was at 2776 and Burnes was at 2683 (for more on Burnes, click here). There are only two left-handers in the top-15 of the league, with Baltimore’s Tanner Scott leading lefties with a 2656 rpm. So, if Luetge can keep up his Spring numbers throughout the regular season, then he is primed to lead all left-handed pitchers in fastball spin rate.

Luetge’s slider and curveball are similar pitches in spin rate, although the velocities are a lot different, with the curve sitting in the mid-70s. He threw the slider considerably more over the past month, so the sample size is better. The slider topped out at 3109 rpm, and averaged about 2900. Sims and Garrett Richards were the league leaders there last year, but their average spin rates reached 3300 on curveballs, which is absolutely bonkers. The left-handed clubhouse leader for curveball spin rate was Astros starter Framber Valdez, at 2982 rpm on average. So once again, Luetge has a chance to be among the league leaders, and the left-handed leader for average spin rate.

Still, do not get ahead of yourself on Luetge yet. He made the Yankees as the 26th man on the roster, a roster that is once again plagued by injuries. Fellow left-handed relievers Justin Wilson and Zack Britton are starting the season on the 10-day injured list, allowing Luetge to make the team. He may not have to worry about Britton, who will be out until late May/early June, but Wilson is expected to return this month.

If Luetge does not get off to a hot regular-season start, then he will likely be the first to go. So, he needs to show the Yankees that he is better than young arms Michael King and Nick Nelson, who both made the team as well before Wilson returns. While it is wise to tread lightly, for now, keep an eye out for Luetge, because he may be the next Yankees’ bullpen star.

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