Joey Lucchesi Solving Tatis Exhibited Growth
Fuego has been great lately, but there were positive signs galore versus San Diego
I’ll say it. Joey Lucchesi can be a seven-inning, 100-pitch starter.
Yes, I’m fully aware of his historical slide in potency once facing a lineup the third time through. But that’s what progress is all about.
We’ve talked at length about Lucchesi’s strides over the last month. After an underwhelming start to his tenure in Flushing — to say the least — the only way left for him to go was up. Or out.
Joey Fuego went up.
After Sunday’s five-inning, one-run effort against the San Diego Padres at Citi Field, the 28-year-old southpaw has now allowed just three earned runs over his last 17.1 innings pitched (1.56 ERA/3.15 FIP) with 19 strikeouts, four walks, and two homers allowed.
Over his first six outings of the year, Lucchesi pitched to a 9.77 ERA over 15.2 innings of work. Stark in the best possible way.
Having faced the Padres twice over the last two weeks (June 6 and on Sunday), and especially taking into consideration his troubles once guys get a good look at him, Lucchesi had no choice but to adjust. And he did so exceptionally.
On June 6 (images all via Statcast), Lucchesi’s two main offerings — the sinker (yellow) and churve (blue) — were strewn about and around the strike zone at will. Keep ‘em guessing!
Whether this was a planned course of action with eyes on his next outing will remain unknown.
Presumably, Mets pitching coach Jeremy Hefner and his crack staff were all well aware of Lucchesi’s need to show the Friars a different look lest be tattooed. In turn, Joseph Flames adjusted accordingly.
As shown below, Lucchesi kept his sinkers inside to lefties and away from righties while tucking that churve in towards right-handed batters’ shins and away from lefties after following the same path as his sinker for like 20 feet.
The moment Lucchesi began showing evidence of switching up his approach, the slate was wiped clean with regards to any tendencies San Diego may have taken note of last week.
Now that he had them thinking and as his spin direction and funky delivery were both creating distractions for hitters, Lucchesi was able to create new tendencies — even orchestrating a ruse or two — to get the job done.
It does appear that Lucchesi had a distinct plan of attack in mind for one of the most feared hitters in the game (as evidenced by his two mammoth home runs this weekend), Fernando Tatis Jr.
Tatis is a menace in the box. That’s no surprise. But, as all hitters do, he has vulnerabilities. If Lucchesi and the Mets coaching staff can crack this code, there’s likely not a mountain this crew can’t climb.
Tatis’ zone charts on Statcast show his penchant for putting balls in the ground on pitches that are high-and-away but in the strike zone.
Keeping him in the ballpark is a win in itself, so that’s a starting point, for sure.
In two appearances versus Tatis on June 6, Lucchesi struck him out on a called third strike (sinker, low, outside corner) and got him to ground out into a fielder’s choice (sinker, chest-high, off the plate outside).
Successful day at the office if you ask me. And also right in line with what the scouting reports say with respect to keeping him at bay.
Going low and outside is a safe bet, as noted above. Well, as safe as you can get. But dotting that high-outside corner is a slippery slope.
Sure, he’s putting them on the ground. But those are some absolute screamers.
The beauty of the situation, especially in Lucchesi’s case with a churve that mirrors the spin of his sinkers, is that he can keep hitters guessing up until the very last millisecond as to what’s coming at them.
In Tatis’ case, Lucchesi was playing with fire by going up and away. Though, the reward — somewhat easily attainable if one’s command is on point — is worth the gamble.
As you can see, Tatis chases and whiffs on pitches high and outside the zone at a high rate. As mentioned above, he also clobbers them when he makes contact.
For Lucchesi to beat Tatis on Sunday after showing him two different looks eight days before, he would have to come at him just as aggressively.
And wouldn’t you know it, the plan worked out to a tee. Lucchesi induced a groundball after pounding the lower half of the zone in their matchup in the first then played off Tatis’ weaknesses in his second at-bat.
It’s here where all the encouraging progress Lucchesi’s made over the last month is so apparent, in my humble opinion.
Clearly knowing where to attack Tatis and taking into account what’s worked for him so far, Lucchesi attacked.
First, he went high and outside the zone with a sinker (whiff), followed by a high-inside churve (!!!), another sinker in the same spot as the first (foul), a churve low, and popped him out chasing a pitch he loves to hit hard.
Textbook dismantling. We absolutely love to see it. And there’s a good reason for that.
If Lucchesi can take this approach into each at-bat — particularly on an AB-to-AB basis to individual hitters, showing a different look each time and wreaking havoc on their decision-making processes — he could theoretically ward off what’s been an inevitable decline the third time through.
Lucchesi going four or five innings each time out has been great, specifically when Mets manager Luis Rojas has been able to piggyback a long-man behind him, keeping the back-end of the bullpen in familiar roles.
On Sunday, with a short relief corps at his disposal, Rojas went with Jeurys Familia for two — clearly taking him out of his comfort zone so early in the game — and it backfired.
Those things will happen, especially under these conditions. But if Lucchesi can indeed begin to take things into the sixth or seventh, it will alleviate these added pressures on what’s been an outstanding bullpen so far.
David Peterson’s inconsistencies magnify the need for a fresh bullpen when his turn comes up after Lucchesi’s. Getting Joey Fuego over that hump could have positive ripple effects all around.
After Sunday’s loss, the left-hander spoke about his desire to take that next step.
“I want to pitch as long as I can. I knew I only threw 72 pitches. I’m not tired,” he said. “I told [Rojas] I wanted to keep going but you gotta respect the manager’s decision. That’s all I can do. I just gotta keep showing him that I can get through the order three times.”
If he keeps on this pace, that could very well be Joey Lucchesi’s next hurdle cleared.
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