The San Diego Padres may be able to expect more from Joey Lucchesi if he can make a few critical adjustments.
Joey Lucchesi has the variables to formulate an equation for dominant pitching.
Having completed his second season in Major League Baseball, Joey Lucchesi showed why he could be the frontline ace of a predominantly young Padres rotation in 2020. With a FIP of 4.17 and a SO/9 of 8.7 in 30 starts last season, there are three factors as to why he can elevate his play and become an All-Star National League starter.
FACTOR ONE: METRIC COMPARISONS
One underrated skill that Lucchesi possessed in 2019, relative to his peers in the National League, was his ability to limit balls being in play and the frequency in which they were hit. He tied for 8th out of 32 NL starters in BABIP against (0.271) and 12th out of 32 in batting average against (0.229). Depending on the category, Lucchesi finished ahead of pitchers such as Noah Syndergaard, Zack Wheeler, Dakota Hudson, and Walker Buehler.
FACTOR TWO: LIMITING QUALITY OF CONTACT & DECEPTIVENESS
With a three-pitch arsenal, primarily consisting of a sinker and changeup combination and an occasional cutter, Lucchesi was relatively effective with the first two pitch types in limiting quality of contact against opposing batters. On his sinker, his xBA xSLG and xwOBA against were 0.237, 0.394 and 0.305 respectfully. With his changeup, Lucchesi’s xBA, xSLG, and xwOBA were 0.203, 0.365, and 0.263 respectfully.
As reflected in opposing hitter’s expected statistics, offensive players had issues with making strong contact with Lucchesi’s sinker/changeup selection. As an added element, the deceptiveness of these pitches was also equally, if not more impressive:
Let’s take a moment and reflect on the fact that of the hitters Lucchesi faced in the 2019 season, a dramatic 38.6% whiffed on his changeup, more than double his sinker. By setting the table with his primary pitch (sinker), his changeup is thrown to add a layer of deception in getting outs.
If Lucchesi continues this trend of limiting contact and deceiving batters with this pitch mix, he will vault himself into the discussion of All-Star status with the elite pitchers of the game, where one can make the case that he already is based on several data points.
FACTOR THREE: ELITE LEVEL SPIN RATES
In comparing the spin and speed of his pitches against other left-handed hurlers in baseball, Lucchesi grades out as bordering on the elite. In 2019, amongst lefties who threw a minimum of 1,500 pitches, he ranked finished 10th out of 33 pitchers in sinker spin (2,215 rpm), 9th out of 42 pitchers in changeup spin (2,091 rpm), and 8th out of 23 pitchers in cutter spin (2,232 rpm).
Using the same parameters but evaluating the usage of his sinker/changeup combination relative to other left-handed pitchers, Lucchesi relied on his sinker and changeup 58% and 35% of the time respectfully. Each of which tied for 2nd amongst left-handers in the sample.
By all measures from his performance of 2019, Joey Lucchesi is on the precipice of making a quantum leap in his development as a starting pitcher for the San Diego Padres. His ability to limit contact quality and deceive batters, while also having strong command is highly impressive. What is even more surprising is that he was better, in some respects, relative to other NL starters who are top-tier pitchers in the game. If Joey Lucchesi builds on his progress from 2019, he will become the definitive ace of the Padres’ staff