Seth Lugo was arguably the most underrated member of the 2018 Mets. After bursting onto the scene in 2016 by posting a 2.67 ERA in 17 games, half of them coming as a starting pitcher, it seemed like he would be an integral part of a team trying to make its way back to the playoffs. The king of spin rate, his success continued into the 2017 World Baseball Classic, in which he was a key pitcher for Puerto Rico in their run to a second place finish. But before the start of the 2017 season, his meteoric rise was cut short by a diagnosis of a partial UCL tear in his pitching elbow. He did not undergo surgery and instead rested, which meant that he didn’t see big league action until June. Much like the rest of the 2017 Mets, his results were uneven and question marks remained heading into this season about that partial UCL tear and how it may affect his game.
One trend that was noticeable was that Lugo was much more effective the first couple of times through the batting order. That, combined with a desire to perhaps limit the mileage on his arm because of the partial UCL tear, meant that Lugo was primarily used out of the bullpen this season. It proved to be an extremely effective transition for the righty. His versatility proved indispensable for the 2018 Mets between his ability to spot start, pitch multiple innings of relief, or even close games when called upon. He excelled in all of these roles.
In 101 innings of work this season, Lugo posted a 2.66 ERA with a 1.08 WHIP and a 3.17 FIP. He had a 138 ERA+ and accrued 2.2 bWAR, almost three times his 2017 total in the same number of innings. While he did make five starts—the highlight of which was a two-hit shutout performance against the Yankees in which he struck out eight over six innings—the bulk of his work this season came in relief.
The secret sauce behind Lugo’s transformation into an effective late-inning bullpen weapon lies with his curveball. Compared to 2017, he threw it more often and it was a more effective pitch than it had been in the past. It gained speed, it gained movement, and hitters had a harder time hitting it. Notably, all of his other pitches saw an uptick in velocity as well, with Lugo being able to air it out over shorter stints on the mound.
Lugo was great all season long, but during the second half he was outright dominant. Since beginning of July he held a 2.32 ERA. The Mets were 22-6 in the 28 games in which he appeared over that span and he threw multiple innings in 15 of them. He has truly become the Mets’ version of Andrew Miller—a bullpen mainstay that can be relied upon for multiple high leverage innings when needed.
The Mets attempted to shore up the bullpen by trading for AJ Ramos and signing Anthony Swarzak to provide some options for late-inning relief. But both pitchers were hurt or ineffective, making Lugo all the more essential and his strong performance all the more stark. As the rest of the bullpen faltered around him—especially after the departure of Jeurys Familia—Lugo was the only reliable member of the Mets bullpen from start to finish in 2018 and is likely one of the only sure things about the relief corps heading into next season.