When the Mets started spring training this year, Seth Lugo was not part of the plan for the 2016 season. Lugo, the 1,032nd player drafted in 2011, hailing from Centenary College of Louisiana, was the definition of a non-prospect. In five minor league seasons—2012 was lost to Spondylolisthesis and subsequent spinal fusion surgery—Lugo only posted an ERA and FIP below 3.00 once, and that was in just five starts in 2013 in Single-A. The best stretch he had after that was in 2015 in Double-A , where he finished the season with a 3.80 ERA and a 3.41 FIP.
Because of significant injuries to basically every starting pitcher on the roster, though, Lugo and his Triple-A 6.10 ERA and 4.66 FIP were called upon to help out the Mets. He debuted with two scoreless innings against the Cubs on July 1. From then on, Lugo was an integral part of the 2016 Mets.
In seventeen appearances, eight of which were starts, Lugo had a 2.67 ERA in 64 innings. He dazzled fans and frustrated batters with a curveball that was one of the most impressive pitches in the majors:
Lugo’s curveball blew away the opposition in spin rate, and it was a big reason why he succeeded.
But there were some red flags that didn’t catch up with him in 2016. While his ERA was stellar, he had an alarming 4.33 FIP. That suggests that he was pitching over his head a little bit. He also had a 85.7% left-on-base rate, which would have been the highest in the major leagues if he was qualified, edging out Jon Lester’s 84.9%. Lugo also had a very high ground ball rate, clocking in at 42.8%, which would have put him in the top 45 of all pitchers. Couple those with such a high FIP, and you get someone who was very lucky to sustain the excellent ERA that he did.
The biggest red flag is his difference going through the order the first and second times. The first time through the order was similar to his overall numbers; he had a 4.68 FIP and a very solid 23.6% strikeout rate. But his numbers the second time through the lineup were alarming. He had a 6.15 FIP, which is downright bad, and his strikeout percentage was just 5.6%.
Opposing hitters had the same batting average against Lugo the first and second times through the order: .246. That means he was getting nearly all of his outs by batted balls the second time through the order, which is hardly sustainable. Interestingly enough, he was much better as a reliever, posting a 2.68 FIP in relief, as opposed to a 4.93 FIP when he started games.
There is no doubt about it: Seth Lugo was an important part of the Mets’ 2016 season and an incredible story of a non-prospect pushing his team to a playoff spot. His status for 2017 is somewhat up in the air, though. The numbers suggest that he pitched over his head, which is bound to catch up with him if he continues starting.
In a perfect world, he wouldn’t have to, and Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, and Zack Wheeler are the Mets’ rotation for the grand majority of next season. If that’s the case, Lugo could either end up in the major league bullpen or the Triple-A starting rotation, awaiting his next opportunity. Regardless of what happens, Lugo’s performance in 2016 will be remembered fondly by Mets fans.