It’s been an eventful few months for the San Diego Padres. In October, the Padres made it to the NLCS after upsetting the Mets and Dodgers in the MLB Playoffs. But after losing to the Phillies, the Padres have attempted to bolster an already strong roster this winter. San Diego already picked up star shortstop Xander Bogaerts at the Winter Meetings, and now the Padres appear to have another arm for its rotation. San Diego has reportedly agreed on a two-year deal with former Met Seth Lugo. For Lugo, this is a chance for the righty to pitch every fifth day yet again.
A Look at Lugo
A 34th round pick by the Mets in 2011, Seth Lugo was never looked upon as a top prospect in the New York farm system. Lugo did perform at every level he pitched at in the Minors, and earned his first callup in 2016 with a banged-up Mets team. Lugo performed well in his initial run, as the Louisiana native won five games and pitched to a 2.67 ERA and 1.09 WHIP across 64 innings.
At the start of the 2017 season, Lugo was found to have a partially torn UCL in his right elbow. Rather than undergo Tommy John surgery, Lugo opted to receive a platelet-rich plasma injection & rest to treat the injury. Lugo didn’t perform as well in 2017 as hoped (4.71 ERA, 88 ERA+, 1.37 WHIP in 19 games (18 starts)), but the former Met did not have any elbow complications after that season.
From 2018 onward, Lugo worked primarily as a reliever for the Mets. The 33-year-old did receive time as a starter in 2020, but that run didn’t go as planned. After two uneventful starts in August (12 strikeouts and one run across 6.2 IP), Lugo gave up 18 runs (17 ER) in 19.2 innings out of the rotation in September 2020.
But as a reliever, Lugo excelled. The 33-year-old maintained good fastball velocity, and used a three-pitch mix to fool batters. At his best, Lugo flashes a mid-90’s fastball, an elite curve that has incredible spin and profiles as his best pitch, and a hard slider that sits in the high-80’s. The right-hander also possesses a changeup, but rarely uses it. In 2022, Lugo used the pitch less than 1% of the time.
Lugo doesn’t elicit many swings and misses. Lugo had one of the worst Chase% rates in all of baseball, as well as a below-average Whiff% rate. What Lugo does have is above-average stuff, plus control, and the ability to induce weak contact. Last season, Lugo produced a 6.0% Weak% rate, well above the 3.8 MLB average.
After 11 years in the Mets organization, Lugo now heads to a San Diego Padres team that will look to make it the World Series for the first time in 25 years.
What it Means
The top of San Diego’s rotation in 2023 has been set since the end of the NLCS. Joe Musgrove, Yu Darvish, and Blake Snell all return to for the Padres next season. The alignment in back end of the Padres’ rotation, though, is uncertain. Neither Mike Clevinger (White Sox) and Sean Manaea (Giants) will return to San Diego for 2023 after subpar campaigns last season. Lugo should take one of those spots to start 2023. As far as a fifth starter, San Diego does have internal candidates in Reiss Knehr, Ryan Weathers, Adrian Morejon, and Nick Martinez. The latter two worked primarily as relievers in the Friars’ bullpen in 2022, although both could work in the rotation. Morejon was a dominant starter in the Minors, while Martinez started 10 games for the Padres last season.
There are some concerns about moving Lugo to the rotation. Besides Lugo’s rough stretch as a starter in 2020, velocity will be something to watch. As a starter, Lugo mainly has operated in the low-90’s with his fastball. Will that be a problem? Time will tell, but a decent track record prior to 2020 does offer promise.
Armed with three average or better offerings, the 33-year-old does have a decent chance of sticking in the Padres’ rotation come next season. If not, San Diego can lean on the right-hander as an effective reliever, something he’s been for most of his career.