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Seth Lugo’s surprising success has helped Mets greatly down the stretch

Never considered a top prospect, Lugo has been great in his first year in the big leagues.

New York Mets v Atlanta Braves Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Tonight, Seth Lugo, a 26-year-old who was taken by the Mets in the 34th round of the 2011 amateur draft, will start against the Minnesota Twins. It will be his sixth major league start and just his fifteenth major league appearance overall, and thus far, the results he’s produced on the mound have been nothing short of excellent.

In total, Lugo has thrown 48.2 innings and has a 2.40 ERA. But he’s been at his best as a starting pitcher, as he has a 2.27 ERA in 31.2 innings in that role, which is pretty remarkable since he hadn’t started regularly since switching from the rotation to the bullpen in Triple-A Las Vegas in early June. And when he was called up to the big leagues ahead of his July 1 major league debut, Lugo sported a 6.55 ERA in Las Vegas.

The hitter’s havens of the Pacific Coast League and Cashman Field don’t do pitchers any favors, and given the conditions, they were probably very ill-suited for Lugo and his curveball. With the Mets, he’s used five pitches, in descending order of frequency with their average velocities from Brooks Baseball:

  • Two-seam fastball (30.7%), 92.6 mph
  • Four-seam fastball (26.0%), 93.4 mph
  • Slider (19.2%), 87.4 mph
  • Curveball (16.8%), 79.0 mph
  • Changeup (7.2%), 86.3 mph

Generally speaking, Lugo has not been a high-strikeout pitcher, as he has rates of 6.84 strikeouts per nine or—if you’re into more precise numbers—19.2 percent of opposing batters. The major league average for starting pitchers is 7.73 per nine innings and 20.2 percent. But Lugo’s swinging strike rate has been good on four of his five pitches, with hitters swinging-and-missing at 16.0 percent of his changeups, 15.4 percent of his curveballs, 12.7 percent of his sliders, and 11.6 percent of his four-seam fastballs. In total, Lugo has a 9.3 percent swinging strike rate—thanks to his two-seam fastball that rarely generates whiffs—that sites just a tick below the major league average of 9.5 percent. He’s not likely to become a high-strikeout pitcher, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see his strikeout rate tick up a little bit.

His strikeout rate comes into play when looking at other metrics about his performance. Lugo has a 3.41 FIP this year, a number derived solely from his strikeouts, walks and hit-by-pitches, and home runs. While that’s quite a bit better than the major league average of 4.32, it suggests Lugo might be prone to a bit of regression. Depending on how you feel about the normalization of home runs rates—the notion that a pitcher cannot control how many of the fly balls he allows end up being home runs—his 4.27 xFIP could be of more concern to you.

One of Lugo’s strengths has been his ability to limit walks to 2.22 per nine or 6.2 percent, versus averages 2.96 and 7.7. Another has been his home run rate, which at 0.55 per nine innings sits far below the 1.25 major league average. And he’s been particularly effective with men on base, stranding 81.6 percent of baserunners, almost a full ten points ahead of the major league average of 72.1.

Add everything up, and perhaps the numbers scream “regression is coming.” But if Lugo can get that slight uptick in strikeout rate, or just keep the walks and home runs down as he has so far, it wouldn’t be shocking if he maintains something close to his overall results the rest of the way, which should include three starts.