Diamond in the Rough: Seth Lugo

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Of all the Mets starters you thought you would be relying upon in September, I'm guessing Seth Lugo isn't one of them. Only the Dodgers can claim worse luck with their starting rotation this year and it appears the reigning NL champs may be sitting out the post-season in 2016. With an eye toward the future, and salvaging what's left of this year, the Mets have filled their rotation gaps with Lugo and fellow rookie Robert Gsellman. So far, so good. Gsellman is three years younger and may have more untapped potential, Lugo has been the more impressive of the two this season. Lugo is 4-2 with a 2.40 ERA, 0.98 WHIP and 37 K in 48.2 IP. While that isn't a big enough sample size to have him replacing Steven Matz in 2017, it is encouraging enough that the Mets, and fantasy owners, may want to take a second look at Lugo.

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Lugo has never been a top prospect, especially in comparison to the names you already know in New York. In 2011, the Mets selected him with the 11th pick of the 34th round — No. 1032 overall. He has had some injury troubles in the past as well. Lugo missed the entire 2012 season after undergoing surgery for a lumbar fusion when he suffered displacement of a vertebra in the spine. He was solid, but uninspiring in his ascent through the minors thereafter. This season, he struggled mightily in Triple-A Las Vegas before being recalled, with a 6.50 ERA and 1.67 WHIP. Of course, many a pitcher has had difficulty in the PCL environment. Lugo's past minor league numbers don't quite jive with those high ratios, so he can be somewhat excused for the early part of this year. His recall was the move of a team desperate for arms, so Lugo found himself pitching in a relief role against the league-leading Cubs on July 1st. He threw two scoreless innings that day with two strikeouts. Further injuries to the starting staff forced Lugo into the rotation and since that time he has thrown four out of five quality starts.

Lugo curve K Rizzo

His current 6.9 K/9 isn't overwhelming, but consider his minor league average is 8.7 and has touched double digits at lower levels. In an interview with SNY two weeks ago, Lugo stated that he is trying to pitch to contact more frequently rather than avoiding hitters or pitching too carefully. This might explain why a dip in K rate has actually led to better success at the Major League level. His 2.2 BB/9 is below his minor league average of 2.8 as well. He has induced a 13.6% Soft% in 48.2 innings of big league work thus far. The Mets coaching staff will gladly accept a slight decrease in strikeouts if it keeps him in ballgames longer.

Lugo DP

Lugo's stuff has never wowed scouts, which is another reason he has flown under the radar. His fastball averages 92.7 MPH, which would be good for 180th among all pitchers in MLB this season. We all know speed alone isn't what makes a good pitcher, however, as Lugo has shown a knack for commanding his pitches well in the zone. Oh, he also has a ridiculous curveball which we'll get to in a minute.

Lugo fast K Lugo fastball K

There is a possibility that Lugo has been avoiding big flies at a lucky rate. He has a 0.55 HR/9, which is very good, but possibly unsustainable given his 6.3% HR/FB%. A 4.27 xFIP for a pitcher who isn't striking out a ton of batters may be concerning as well. The defense behind him has been solid, but if he isn't blowing away batters and leaves the ball in the zone too often, he can look very hittable as he did in Las Vegas. Then again, when you're in Vegas, many unattractive things suddenly become "hittable."

Lugo HR

But Lugo has a secret weapon - a filthy, filthy curveball. You saw it earlier against NL MVP candidate Anthony Rizzo and are about to see it again. Fangraphs' Jeff Sullivan highlighted Lugo's ridiculous spin rate on his curveball not long ago. Keep in mind, he's only been pitching at the big league level since July for a total of 14 appearances. Here are the top spin rates on curves this year.

lugo-spin

That alone won't win you fantasy points, but it does give some promise to his future K rate. Who needs to hit 100 on the radar when you can have batters swinging at dirt?

Lugo curve K down

Seth Lugo never projected to be part of a young, dynamic Mets rotation that would lead them into contention for years to come. It's unclear whether he will even be given a chance to earn one of those spots next Spring. But he should. Fantasy owners looking for a waiver savior this coming week should pass on Gsellman (possible torn labrum) and look toward Lugo. He may also just sneak up on people next year as well, wherever he emerges.

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