The Mariners acquired Lucas Luetge in the Rule 5 draft in December. In the Majors this year, only 12 pitchers (including Luetge) have pitched that were acquired via the Rule 5 draft (5, including Ivan Nova, were acquired by their team by being returned from the Rule 5 draft, as you have to sell the player back at a discounted price if you decide that the player isn’t worth keeping on the 25 man roster). Those players have a combined WAR of 3, or .25 WAR per player. For comparison, the 579 pitchers that have appeared in the big leagues have earned a 213.1 WAR this year, or .368 WAR per player. So clearly, the Rule 5 draft is mostly an inefficient way (although low risk) to help build a team. So when a team acquires a player in the Rule 5 draft, it is foolish to expect the player to play a big role. Most teams hide the player, use the DL liberally, and hope he shows some positive signs and makes it through the season (often to spend the next year in the minors). For Lucas Luetge, this really hasn’t been the case.
Luetge has been a valuable lefty reliever for the Mariners. Molded in the role of Randy Choate, Clay Rapada, and Wesley Wright (also acquired in the Rule 5 draft several years ago by the Astros), Luetge is brought in regularly to face lefties. Lefties have been absolutely shut down by Luetge, with an OPS of just .436. However, it seems that as time has gone on, Eric Wedge has gained more confidence in allowing Luetge to face righties. An outing against the Red Sox comes to mind on July the 1st, when he was allowed to throw an entire inning (he had 39 appearances for just 27 innings coming into Wednesday) and faced both lefties and righties for an easy inning. Right handed batters are not hitting very well off Luetge either, at just a .548 OPS as well. His value was shown over a 2 game period against the Yankees on Tuesday and Wednesday.
In the 8th on Tuesday, Luetge entered the game after Felix Hernandez’s control melted down and he hit 3 batters in a 5 batter span. With a runner on, Robinson Cano came up to the plate. Cano is a really good hitter, but has a profound platoon split, with just a .646 OPS against lefties. Luetge tried to attack him low and away with his sinker/slider combo and fell behind 2-0. He then came in with a sinker and watched Cano foul it off. Luetge threw a slider low, out of the zone, but Cano made contact on it. The good news was that it was a ground-ball, but the bad news was that it got through for a hit. This loaded the bases and forced Luetge to face the switch-hitting Mark Teixeira. He tried attacking him outside, but Teixeira hit the ball pretty well in the air for a SAC fly to cut the lead to 1 run. With two outs, Joe Girardi didn’t pinch hit for lefty Raul Ibanez, a move that was widely criticized as Ibanez is clearly a platoon player at this point. Ibanez put up a fight, making it a 7 pitch at-bat, but Luetge ended up getting him to make an ugly swing on a slider for a strikeout.
On Wednesday, Luetge was basically asked to face the same part of the lineup. He came in to face Robinson Cano, who singled again, this time a line drive on a mistake slider by Lucas. Mark Teixeira then singled on an outside pitch, bringing up the dangerous Curtis Granderson with the bases loaded and no outs. In the 4th pitch of the at-bat, Luetge put a slider on the low and outside corner, causing Granderson to weakly pop up foul to 3rd. Wedge then lifted Luetge for Shawn Kelley, who went on to implode as the Mariners would lose 5-2.
Luetge has been good this year despite not having stuff worth writing about. He averages less than 90 MPH on his fastball and his slider is incredibly unimpressive looking at 84 MPH and almost flat. He basically works off this and a sinker (and now an occasional change). Yet he is striking out a hitter an inning with a really impressive ground-ball rate. He has been pretty valuable for the Mariners this year, with a .9 bWAR, .8 WPA, and a .5 fWAR. According to Baseball Reference’s WAR, Tom Wilhelmsen (the team’s closer) has been worth just 1 more run this season than Luetge. Charlie Furbush has probably been the team’s most effective reliever and he has the same bWAR as Luetge. On the year, Luetge owns a solid 2.73 FIP and 3.75 SIERA. Not bad for a guy that had never pitched above AA and was left unprotected and off the 40 man roster.
I think this is also relevant when it comes to the narrative about Jack Zduriencik. Today in a Fangraphs chat with Dave Cameron, someone posed the question as to whether Z was good at evaluating talent or not (more accurately, the question asker asserted that Z was bad at evaluating talent and that he got “lucky” in Milwaukee). Justin Smoak has been a complete failure, the Chone Figgins signing (although one could argue that it made sense at the time) turned out to be awful, and the offense continues to be pretty bad (along with some holes in the rotation). The Mariners are not a good team and that reflects on the guy who puts together the team, there is no doubt about it. This isn’t a “don’t criticize front offices” post. However, Luetge falls into a pattern of guys that make Z look pretty smart. While George Sherrill, Hong-Chih Kuo, and Aaron Heilman didn’t work out, Oliver Perez, Josh Kinney, and Lucas Luetge have for the most part. The Mariners got John Jaso for a troubled reliever that has bounced between AAA and the Majors this year. The Mariners got a decent starter in Kevin Millwood on a minor league contract. Hisashi Iwakuma looks bad, but the Mariners got Brendan Ryan, probably the best defensive shortstop in baseball, for a reliever that has struggled in a short sample in the Majors. Miguel Olivo is not very good, but Tom Wilhelmsen is. The point is, this is not a front office completely devoid of talent evaluation skills. They have done a good job in finding players that are severely undervalued or totally off the radar and making them useful players (not to mention the job they have done in the draft for the most part). Lucas Luetge is another example of this. You aren’t going to win a division on the back of Lucas Luetge, but he is a helpful piece in what is currently a good bullpen. This isn’t the Royals or the Rockies where you can’t figure out the rational for any of the strange moves they make. Will Z be the GM that puts together the next very competitive Mariner team? Only time will tell, and the answer maybe no. The Mariners look to be at least a couple years away from competing, and any major personnel mistakes will just make it longer and will probably end the current front office’s reign.
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Favorite general sports moment: The Texas versus USC college football national championship comes to mind, as does Gary Matthews Jr. catch on July 1st 2006.
Favorite Seattle Sports Moment: King Felix throwing a perfect game against the Rays
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