Part 13 in a series about the New York Mets
Seth Lugo’s place as the Mets’ most valuable reliever over the past two seasons is evident in the numbers. The big question is whether the right-hander should remain in the bullpen.
With Jacob deGrom and Steven Matz the only healthy Mets starting pitchers under contract or club control for 2021 — Noah Syndergaard is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and expected to miss the early part of the season — Lugo may finally get his wish next year and return to starting duty.
Or the transformation could begin this summer, should a season be played and the Mets need another rotation arm beyond deGrom, Matz, Marcus Stroman, Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha.
“This is my thing with Lugo: He can be a good starting pitcher, a No. 4 or 5 on a championship team, but he’s an elite reliever,” a major league talent evaluator said. “He has that elbow issue [a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament] and that is always the argument, what is going to keep him healthier, pitching out of the pen or pitching in the rotation?”
Lugo, 30, went 7-4 with a 2.70 ERA and 0.900 WHIP in 61 relief appearances last season, becoming the Mets’ key bullpen piece after Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia sputtered. In 24 of his appearances, Lugo recorded more than three outs. Lugo struck out 104 batters over 80 innings and walked only 16. His strikeout rate over nine innings computed at 11.7.
It followed a successful 2018 season for Lugo working primarily from the bullpen in which he posted a 2.66 ERA. A year earlier he had pitched mostly as a starter to lesser results: He finished 7-5 with a 4.71 ERA in 19 appearances, 18 of which were starts.
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“His stuff isn’t going to be the same over 100 pitches every five days, because it’s going to play down a little bit,” the talent evaluator said. “The velocity is going to go down, the curveball probably should still be there, but Seth is better when he just sticks with his fastball/curveball combo because out of the bullpen it plays way up and it’s plus-plus, both of those.
“The way he can move his fastball around, maybe not the velocity is plus-plus, but the way he can move the ball around, elevate, go down and away and command both sides of the plate and then he has got the equalizer which is the curveball. That makes him an elite reliever.”
If the Mets were to move Lugo from the bullpen, Diaz and Familia would almost certainly have to rebound, and another arm for high leverage situations might be needed.
Lugo had hoped he would be considered for the rotation this season, but the additions of Porcello and Wacha over the winter gave the Mets six starters for five spots. Syndergaard subsequently underwent Tommy John surgery. Porcello and Wacha are signed only through this season. Only complicating the equation for the Mets is Lugo’s partially torn UCL.
“He’s got a tear in there — eventually it’s going to go,” the talent evaluator said. “It could go on his next pitch or it could go two years from now. Nobody knows. That is why the last two years they have been very careful with him. They almost treated him as if he was a rehabbing player.
“That is the dance you have to do with him in the pen as well. But there is always something with every guy. If they have pitched a substantial amount of time in the big leagues they all have nicks and bruises that you have to try and manage.”
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