The most notable portion of Seth Lugo’s 2017 season may well have taken place before Opening Day. His success in the early rounds of the World Baseball Classic brought some national prominence to a pitcher known to Mets fans for his impressive, seemingly out-of-nowhere late-season contributions to the team’s 2016 Wild Card run, and to the statistically-inclined for the otherworldly spin rate on his curveball. However, many speculated that Lugo’s early exertion pitching for Puerto Rico in the WBC may have contributed to an injury that delayed the start of his 2017 regular season until June, hung a cloud over the rest of his season, and continues to loom into 2018.
Entering spring training, Lugo was envisioned as perhaps seventh on the starting pitching depth chart—either luxurious insurance for a potentially epic starting rotation, or a possible multi-inning weapon out of the bullpen. As the WBC ended close to the end of spring, Lugo was one of the first cards to come tumbling down, diagnosed with a partial tear of his UCL before the start of the season.
Lugo opted for rest, recovery, and plasma injections—originally hoping to miss only a few weeks, Lugo ultimately didn’t make his season debut until June 11 against the Braves. In 12 games (11 starts) between then and August 11, Lugo went 5-3, recording a 4.85 ERA (4.50 FIP) over 68.2 innings, until a shoulder impingement sent him to the DL for a second time in August. Lugo returned from that injury a couple of weeks later and looked solid over his final seven starts, recording a 9.09 K/9 rate over his final 32.2 innings, pitching to a 4.41 ERA, but a 2.79 FIP and 3.18 xFIP.
Lugo’s numbers look significantly more palatable the first couple of times through the lineup. Even considering that most any pitcher’s numbers will suffer the third+ time through a lineup, the disparity in Lugo’s numbers was quite stark. In 80 innings compiled the first two times through a lineup, Lugo pitched to a 3.16 ERA, allowing a .246/.300/.483 slash line to opposing hitters. Meanwhile, in 21.1 innings the third/fourth time around, Lugo had a 10.23 ERA, allowing a .311/.438/.534 line. Lugo also looked like a different pitcher at Citi Field, allowing a 2.39 ERA over 37.2 innings at home as opposed to a 6.08 mark on the road.
Overall, Lugo finished 2017 with a 7-5 record over 19 appearances (18 starts), a disappointing-looking 4.71 ERA—and a still partially-torn UCL. It may seem foolhardy to count on him too much in 2018, though one need only look across town at Masahiro Tanaka to see that this is something that can be successfully pitched through for some time. And vague rumblings at the trade deadline of interest in Lugo from teams such as the Cubs would indicate the Mets would not be alone in holding out hope for his continued development.
While his 7.5 K/9 looks merely average and his 4.71 ERA appears disappointing, Lugo’s 3.95 FIP and 1.7 fWAR over 101.1 innings point to a pitcher who can indeed be a serviceable-to-solid starter—if one with which the new manager might need to have a quick hook—or a weapon out of the bullpen—say it with us, everyone—if healthy.