Meet Cory Luebke: The Forgotten Signing

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Corey Luebke was born on March 4, 1985 in Coldwater. He attended Marion Local High School in Maria Stein, Ohio before attending and shining at The Ohio State University. The 20 year old left hander got his collegiate career off to an excellent start as he appeared in 16 games, starting in 12, as a Freshman. That year, Luebke threw 71 innings with a 3.55 ERA, a mark that would only keep getting better, and three complete games, including one shutout. His next year as a Buckeye was even more successful, as Luebke pitched in, and started,13 games – seven being complete games – and he produced an even better 3.38 ERA, and he was just getting started. In Luebke’s third and final year in Columbus, the southpaw posted many career bests, including ERA (2.07), innings (117.2), WHIP (1.03), K/9 (7.5), and K/BB (3.5), among many more. That strong campaign helped Luebke propel into the first round where he was selected 63rd overall in 2007 by the San Diego Padres.

Luebke got his minor league career started off on the right foot, as he pitched in 15 games, started 9, to the tune of a 3.07 ERA, carrying on his already strong season which started while he was a member of the Buckeyes. However, Luebke hit a bump in the ceiling in 2008 – spending time in both class A and class high A ball – but he was able to bounce back in 2009 and even helped Team USA win gold in that years Baseball World Cup. He piggy backed that strong campaign, becoming the Padres number six prospect for 2010, with another strong campaign in 2010 and he made his Major League debut on September 3 of that year.

Luebke got his first, and to date only, full season of Major League experience in 2011 and he performed well. The left hander pitched in 46 games, starting in 17, and had an ERA of 3.29 with a FIP of 2.92. He looked to be having a promising career, especially after he received a contract extension, and started off the 2012 season with a 2.61 ERA in his first, and only, 5 starts to the year. But then disaster struck, putting halt to Luebke’s professional career. On May 23, 2012 Cory went under the knife to receive Tommy John surgery, a pretty standard routine, and the Padres expected him to come back at some point in the 2013 season, however he was shut down and didn’t pitch in any games. The club then expected him to recover and be ready for the 2014 campaign, but disaster once again struck as on February 4, 2014 the Padres announced that Luebke – once again – had to receive Tommy John surgery, the second time in his career. Last season, however, he was able to return to the mound pitching in seven minor  league innings in seven games and posting a 3.86 ERA. He was granted his free agency at the end of the year on November 4, 2015 and signed to a minor league deal, with an out clause, by the Pittsburgh Pirates on February 11 of this year.

Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports /

But that’s not the thing that makes Luebke intriguing, it’s just a nice story on perseverance and overcoming the obstacles that he has faced. The thing that makes Luebke interesting is his increase in velocity. According to John Heyman, Luebke has been hitting 94 miles per hour with his fastball and 87 miles per hour with his curveball. That 94 miles per hour would be a career best, and is truly remarkable given how he has overcome two Tommy John surgeries in such a short period of time. The other thing that makes it fascinating is, according to Brooks Baseball, the highest his average fastball velocity in his Major League career has been 92.25 miles per hour, which came in 2011 – 2012 was close at 92.24 miles per hour – but two gain two ticks after the surgeries points to a potential resurgence in his career. The other thing that is noteworthy is his curveball velocity, which I think Heyman really meant to be his slider. Luebk’s slider has averaged 83.95 miles per hour, 84.14 miles per hour, and 86.01 miles per hour from 2010-2012. Assuming Heyman really did mean slider, that is an increase of one mile per hour from his last Major League season and three miles per hour from his most productive season and the season of his most work. The increase in velocity of both pitches has put Luebke in a position to fight for a bullpen spot. He missed time at the beginning of spring training, due to a hamstring injury, but in his three games he has struggled, pitching in 3.2 innings and posting a 7.36 ERA. The lefty will likely start the year in Triple A Indianapolis bullpen as he tries to fight his way back to a Major League roster. But as he keeps working, building back up strength, and getting used to pitching in live games again, the 31-year-old Cory Luebke could be a key cog in the Pirates pitching depth for the 2016 season.

*Numbers from baseball-reference.com and baseballcube.com