Against Los Angeles last Saturday, Seth Lugo was cruising along, carving up the Dodger hitters like he was Greg Maddux in his prime. He yielded only one hit and no runs through five innings. In the sixth inning, however, the Dodger batters began teeing off on him like it was batting practice, smacking two home runs and scoring three runs against Lugo to tie the game, a contest they would eventually go on to win 7-4. Please note, this sixth inning outburst occurred when Lugo was on his third time through the Dodger lineup that day.
In examining Lugo’s stats via FanGraphs, we find his overall ERA is 4.55 this year, a below average figure. But his splits stats show that the third time through the order, his ERA is a whopping 8.40, which has significantly depressed his overall ERA. So it looks like Lugo pitches pretty decently the first two times through the batting order, then he gets knocked around.
Perhaps it would help the team if Lugo were deployed in a different fashion, say as a reliever in kind of an Andrew Miller lite role. Miller was a key force out of the bullpen in the 2016 Cleveland Indian drive to the World Series. He was used mainly in high leverage situations from the fifth inning on, often pitching two or three innings.
Plenty of other starters in the Mets current rotation not named Jacob deGrom also have trouble by the mid part of the game. Lugo could be used when one of the starters gets shaky in the fifth or sixth inning of a close game to pitch two to three innings and get the team to its eighth inning setup man, or possibly the closer. Used in that fashion Lugo could pitch several times a week and never have to face a lineup for the third time.
Some of the Met starters on the DL will be returning (hopefully) this month, so perhaps a Robert Gsellman could take Lugo’s spot in the rotation freeing Lugo to be used in the manner described above.
Although Lugo has mostly been a starter for his professional career, he has pitched in a relief role as well, so the nuances of warming up quickly should not be foreign to him. If he knows he will only be pitching a couple of innings, he will not have to pace himself too much, he could air it out more.
Terry Collins, and most managers for that matter, prefer using more match-up pitching in the mid innings of a game, trying to match a lefty against a lefty and vice-versa. But Lugo has fairly similar stats against right-handed and left-handed batters. Checking those splits stats again, lefty hitters have a .274 BA against Lugo this season, while right-handed batters have a .271 BA, not very different. Perhaps this is because Lugo relies heavily on his curveball. Branch Rickey noted way back in the fifties that a good curve is nearly as effective against batters from either side of the plate.
Even though Miller is a different type of pitcher than Lugo, the numbers show Lugo could be an effective pitcher in the Miller role, being deployed for a few innings in close games a few times a week.