Seth Lugo has pitched four seasons in the majors and lifetime he has 31 starts and 30 games finished, without a complete game to his credit. He was very effective as both a starter and reliever when he first came up in 2016 but the following season got off to a late start because of elbow troubles. He was used in the rotation in an effort to decrease the strain on his elbow in 2017. But the past two years, Lugo has appeared in 115 games with only five starts. And all of those came in 2018.
Lugo wants to be a starter. But he’s one of the few people who you can legitimately make the case that he’s more valuable in the pen than in the rotation. He could probably put up solid SP4-type numbers if he was allowed to throw 180 innings. But in 178.1 innings as a reliever, he has a 2.52 ERA and a 0.953 WHIP. Most starters would be better in the bullpen in shorter bursts. But Lugo seems to have experienced more than your typical boost in his move to a reliever. And recently the Mets have had a greater need for a good reliever than a run of the mill starter.
With Noah Syndergaard out for the 2020 season, it would seem that a spot would be available in the rotation. And Lugo would likely put up better numbers there than the current version of Michael Wacha. But Lugo would also put up much, much better numbers than Wacha in the pen. Usually the greater innings of a starter would trump the better bullpen performance. But, unfortunately for Lugo, the Mets believe this is the case of the exception that proves the rule.
Before the 2019 season started, it seemed unlikely that all of the planets would align for Lugo to get back to the rotation. But you can see a path there now with the Syndergaard situation. If Dellin Betances, Edwin Diaz and Jeurys Familia pitch closer to their 2018 selves than their 2019 versions, the bullpen could better absorb the loss of Lugo, especially if Wacha doesn’t get the job done. But that would still require a lot of things to break “right” for Lugo. You wouldn’t want to wager on it happening but you can’t dismiss the chance outright, either. And that’s the big hurdle in projecting Lugo. Let’s see what the computer models forecast:
ATC – 72 IP, 3.15 ERA, 83 Ks, 17 BB, 9 HR
Steamer – 65 IP, 3.54 ERA, 75 Ks, 17 BB, 8 HR
THE BAT – 65 IP, 4.10 ERA, 72 Ks, 19 BB, 10 HR
ZiPS – 74.1 IP, 3.15 ERA, 88 Ks, 18 BB, 9 HR
None of these four systems see him making a start in 2020, which is surprising to me. Perhaps they see the trend of being mostly a starter in 2017 to a handful of starts in 2018 and then none in 2019 and see the transition as complete. Still, I would have anticipated a couple of starts to show up somewhere from these systems, which usually use some sort of utilization of the results from the previous three years.
Additionally, we have a little more variation in expected performance, which isn’t a big shock given the nature of 65-70 inning samples. ATC and ZiPS are nearly identical but Steamer shows a jump in ERA and THE BAT is almost bearish in its ERA projection. It should be noted that the two nearly identical forecasts have Lugo slightly beating his FIP, while THE BAT has Lugo’s ERA within a point of his FIP. Historically, Lugo’s ERA is about a quarter-run better than his FIP.
Now, here’s my totally biased projection for a 162-game season for Lugo:
My expectation is that Lugo will find himself in the rotation for a few starts, similar to his 2018 season. But he’ll be given a short leash. You’ll have more credibility if you chime in now with what you think Lugo will do this year. Next up to undergo the forecast microscope will be Wilson Ramos.