No one seriously thought Lucas Luetge, a random non-roster invitee, would make a significant impact on the Yankees in 2021. I noted nothing other than the “ex-big leaguer” qualifier to describe him when the Yankees announced its NRIs in February. And yet, it didn’t take long to take notice of Luetge’s Grapefruit League dominance, which has carried over to a strong regular season start.
Last night’s clean outing was the southpaw’s sixth consecutive scoreless appearance. It dropped his ERA and FIP to 3.78 and 3.95, respectively, in 16.2 innings. While those run prevention numbers don’t jump out, keep in mind that Luetge got off to a slow start. He surrendered a run in each of his first five outings, though not all of them were bad performances. Initially, it looked like Luetge would settle in to a low leverage relief role, which isn’t a bad outcome considering how long he’d been out of the majors (2015!). But yesterday, Aaron Boone threw him right into the fire.
Last night, Luetge was the first man out of the bullpen in a tie game and was given the unenviable task of facing Houston’s 2-3-4 hitters: Michael Brantley, Alex Bregman, and Yordan Álvarez.
Three grounders, and though Bregman’s snuck through for a hit, what more could you ask for? This came against one of the most potent sections of an elite opposing lineup.
You don’t need leverage index to tell you that last night was a big spot for Luetge. But for what it’s worth, yesterday (1.34) was the third time Luetge has entered a game with an above average leverage index (1 = average). All three of those have come in his last six games, which happens to coincide with his scoreless streak. And while last night’s outing was good, this was my favorite big spot performance from Luetge:
My goodness, that was a filthy curveball to ring up Franmil Reyes. Luetge inherited runners on the corners from Jordan Montgomery against Cleveland’s best non-José Ramírez hitter and got the job done with aplomb. The leverage index for that moment was 2.43, which is exceptionally high, and Luetge delivered.
Luetge’s basically doing all of the same things we saw back in March. But even he dominated spring training, there had to be some doubt in everyone’s mind about what the 34 year-old could contribute in the regular season. I’m pretty sure Luetge has erased anyone’s doubts at this point. Just look at this:
That’ll do. Just like we saw in March, Luetge’s three-pitch high spin arsenal has made it difficult to square him up. And now, given his recent usage, it’s clear that Boone trusts him in big spots. Frankly, Luetge deserves it.
Luetge isn’t going to surpass the depth chart’s bridges to Aroldis Chapman in Chad Green, Zack Britton, or Jonathan Loaisiga. But he’s clearly made himself a top option in the middle innings, which is a role I think the Yankees were hoping Justin Wilson and Darren O’Day would handle. Wilson has been ineffective of late and O’Day is now on the injured list.
Unearthing Luetge is just another case of the rich getting richer. The bullpen was already great without Luetge, and now, it seems the team has yet another stellar relief arm. Kudos to the Yankees for keeping their eyes on Luetge all these years, only to finally pick him up in 2021. And kudos to Luetge for continuing to pursue a return to the majors. Pretty amazing that we’re all pretty confident in a reliever most of us had never heard of prior to spring training.