Can Joey Lucchesi develop even more in 2020 and reach his potential for the San Diego Padres?
Joey Lucchesi or Joey Fuego, as Padres fans like to call him, finished his second full season as a starter, showing signs of potential. The 2019 season was full of positives and negatives for Lucchesi, but if he wants to remain a starter through this coming season and years to come, he needs to prove that he can be more consistent late in games. Specifically, towards the sixth and seventh inning.
Lucchesi is the only left-handed pitcher the Padres really have penciled into their rotation, so it’s essential to have him to go with all the right-handed pitchers on the potential staff.
The Padres started lefties Matt Strahm and Adrian Morejon every once in a while as a part of a “bullpen day” last season, something that could be a possibility again in 2020. As of right now, Lucchesi is arguably a lock to be one of the five starters for San Diego to start the season, although the Padres have plenty of pitching prospects ready to make their mark soon.
During Lucchesi’s rookie season, he showed flashes of being a dominant pitcher in this league. The Southeast Missouri State University product ranked third among rookies in strikeouts (145), tied for fourth in starts (26), and tied for fifth in wins (8). He had a team-best 10 strikeouts per nine innings while only walking 43 batters in 130 innings on the season. He finished with a 4.08 ERA.
Lucchesi’s sophomore campaign seemed to be pretty similar in terms of his numbers but regressed in a few categories. He finished the season with a 4.18 ERA in 163.2 innings pitched. Lucchesi struck out 158 batters (24th in NL) while walking 58. The lefty recorded a WHIP of 1.22, which ranked 19th in the NL.
The fourth round pick has proven that he can strike batters out and generate a high swing and miss rate. He struggles with throwing in the strike zone, although that isn’t always a bad thing. Lucchesi only throws in the zone 45% of the time, with the MLB average at 49.9 percent. In 2019, he had a 32.1 percent first pitch swing rate, which was higher than the league average at 28.3 percent. The Padres pitcher can force ground balls as well; his 48.7 percent is higher than the average at 45.4 percent.
Lucchesi relies on just three pitches – sinker, changeup, and cutter – but throws his sinker and changeup 86 percent of the time. His sinker has a 51.3 percent usage rate while his changeup has a 35.1 percent usage rate. He held opposing hitters to a .183 batting average when utilizing his changeup. Most people refer to his changeup as a “churve” as it is thrown similar to a curveball. He doesn’t throw his cutter often as it’s only at a 13.5 percent usage rate.
The lefty is going to need a fourth pitch in his arsenal if he is going to want to keep hitters guessing. A slider to go along with his cutter, sinker, and “churve” could be of some help. Lucchesi doesn’t have high velocity, so another breaking ball or offspeed pitch would make sense.
Baseball has seen similar pitchers have success like Patrick Corbin, Matthew Boyd, and Sean Manaea, all of whom are lefties with average velocity. The difference between them is they keep hitters guessing with 4-5 pitches in their arsenal that they can use, while Lucchesi relies on just two pitches. Seeing an extra pitch can really elevate Lucchesi’s game. This is a make or break season for the southpaw.
San Diego’s newly hired manager Jayce Tingler, and the Padres brought in Larry Rothschild as the new pitching coach this offseason. Rothschild is coming off eight seasons coaching the Yankees, and he’ll use his veteran presence on Lucchesi and this young Padres pitching core.