The Pittsburgh Pirates should pursue this recently DFA'd left-handed relief pitcher
The Pittsburgh Pirates entered the offseason with just one left-handed pitcher on the 40-man roster with that being Manny Bañuelos. After designating him for assignment, the team went without a lefty for a while. While not yet official, according to reports, they signed Jarlin Garcia on a one-year deal at the Winter Meetings and added Jose Hernandez in the Rule 5 Draft. The team could acquire another low-cost lefty as the New York Yankees recently designated Lucas Luetge for assignment, who’s been effective the last two seasons.
Luetge hasn’t had the most typical path to success. After pitching just 89 innings with the Seattle Mariners from 2012 to 2015, working to a 4.35 ERA, 4.27 FIP, and 1.48 WHIP, the southpaw wouldn’t appear in the majors for five straight seasons. Luetge bounced around with the M’s, LA Angels, Baltimore Orioles, Cincinnati Reds, and Arizona Diamondbacks before finally landing with the New York Yankees in the 2020-2021 offseason.
Luetge would blow all expectations out of the water in 2021, pitching to a phenomenal 2.74 ERA, 2.84 FIP, and 1.13 WHIP in 72.1 frames. Luetge struck out just over a quarter of the batters he faced with a 25.9% strikeout rate while carrying a very strong 5.0% walk rate. On top of that, he had a strong 0.75 HR/9 rate. The lefty held opponents to just an 86.6 MPH exit velocity (top 88th percentile) and 31.4% hard-hit rate (top 92nd percentile).
Luetge would follow up his breakout ‘21 campaign with another quality season this past year. This time in 57.1 innings, Luetge worked to a 2.67 ERA, 3.03 FIP, and 1.40 WHIP. Although his walk rate and strikeout rate were slightly worse at 6.8% and 23.9%, respectively, they were still solid numbers.
He also saw his home run rate decrease to just .63-per-9. While his groundball rate decreased from 42.2% in 2021 to 35.3% in 2022, he gave up even less hard contact. He held opponents to an 85.2 MPH exit velocity, which was in the 97th percentile, and his 23.5% hard-hit rate was in the 100th percentile.
While Luetge saw a rise in WHIP and opponent average, he also suffered from a .355 batting average on balls in play. Given how well he gets batters to induce soft contact, there's a decent chance he’d fare better next season.
Luetge, despite his quality results, comes with relatively cheap control. MLB Trade Rumors projects the reliever to make just $1.7 million in arbitration. He also comes with two more years of control. For how effective Luetge is, he probably has the best value of any reliever currently available, both on the trade market and free agent market.
It would likely be relatively cheap for the Pirates to acquire Luetge. The team could always use another relief pitcher, and Luetge has been highly effective the last two seasons, and they’ve been more willing to trade prospects this season. Rarely do you see a highly effective left-hander just hit the market like Luetge just did. If there’s a chance the Pirates could get Luetge, they need to jump on it.