Joey Lucchesi seemed to finally be coming into his own during the 2021 season when he unfortunately needed to undergo Tommy John surgery, which ended his season and forced him to miss all of the following year. In 2023, he was expected to provide rotation depth, but despite Justin Verlander and José Quintana missing the beginning of the year with injuries, Lucchesi didn’t make the rotation out of spring training and didn’t make his season debut until April 21 against the Giants.
The rotation was a bit tumultuous at the time, and he arguably pitched the best game of the season at that point. He was the first Mets starter to pitch into the seventh inning this season, and he struck out nine in the team’s 7-0 win over San Francisco. His game score from that night was 80, improving upon his previous best of 73 so it was arguably the best game of his career, as well.
The team won in his next start against Washington, but then things went south a bit in May. He made three starts and owned an unsightly 7.20 ERA over ten innings pitched in those starts. The team lost all three games against Detroit, Colorado, and Washington, and shortly after, he was sent back to Triple-A and was not seen again until August for a successful spot start against the Cardinals.
Lucchesi closed the year with three successful starts in September and put in one outstanding effort against the Diamondbacks, during which he again completed seven innings. He finished the year with a very good 2.89 ERA and kept his undefeated record intact. He was 4-0, and the team was 5-4 in his nine starts.
From an outside perspective, it was a bit odd how the Mets handled the southpaw this season. Despite the team’s struggles through much of the season, the Mets stuck with David Peterson, Tylor Megill, and Carlos Carrasco and never gave Lucchesi an extended look at the major league level. The team also turned to Denyi Reyes and José Butto repeatedly. In fact, Lucchesi wasn’t even allowed to finish the season with the team. After his final start, he was sent back to Triple-A in favor of Reyes, who ended up getting lit up on the final day of the season.
To be fair, Lucchesi struggled in the minor leagues and the splits between the majors and the minors is stark. With Syracuse, he was 6-5 with a 4.75 ERA, and his walk rate—4.3 batters per nine innings—was concerning. Opponents hit .252/.335/.431 against him. He only walked 3.28 per nine at the major league level, and opponents hit .251/.325/.394 against him.
The lefty shared his thoughts on why he struggled in the minors, and he hypothesized it was due to the automated strike zone they were using. If that system is eventually implemented at the major league level, he could be ahead of the churve—errr, curve—in knowing how to adjust to it.
Joey Lucchesi talks about the differences between Triple-A and MLB and the automated Triple-A strike zone:— SNY (@SNYtv) September 14, 2023
They have an ABS system and if I'm being honest, no one really likes it. They just changed it for the second time. I don't think it's very realistic to up here." pic.twitter.com/Q23aN2xdWb
Overall it was a rather eventful season for the 30-year-old. He was involved in two scary incidents over the course of the year. The first was when he was struck near his neck by a line drive in the minors but he managed to complete the inning and was thankfully okay. Then the night before his final start, his Uber ride was involved in a car accident that was caused by another car fleeing from police. He still made his final start and put in another good effort to close his season. He also suffered a leg injury that kept him out for three weeks over the summer.
Despite all of that, one of his stated goals was to prove he could still pitch at the major league level after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and he accomplished that. Lucchesi is arbitration-eligible next season and is expected to get around $2 million, which is a no-brainer for the Mets to give him. With only Quintana and Kodai Senga guaranteed rotation spots next season, Lucchesi has an opportunity to compete for a spot in the rotation and could potentially be a perfectly capable back-end starter with his unique churve pitch. If the team finds other pitchers to round out the rotation, he could perhaps serve as the long man out of the bullpen and add some much-needed stability to the the relief corps. No matter what his role ends up being, the Mets should show the churve some love in 2024.