The Importance of the Relief Ace

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Despite Seth Lugo’s valiant WBC performance he appears ticketed to the New York Mets bullpen.

Yet, his role is in the pen is still very important even though he won’t be getting the saves and wins. I personally hate those two stats to measure a pitcher’s success. I will admit, I do get excited when Familia racks up all those saves but that stat is not what makes him a good pitcher. Lugo can be a pitcher that is starting to become more and more attractive to teams around baseball: the relief ace.

The relief ace is the guy who comes into the game at any point and who can either serve as a bridge guy, eat innings, or be the set up guy. A good example of this was Andrew Miller in the playoffs. Miller did all of the above in the postseason. There is a small issue though, the regular season is a different animal than the postseason. The regular season is a marathon whereas the postseason is a sprint. That is why it is unlikely guys like Andrew Miller (or Addison Reed in Mets case) will be able to be a relief ace all season long.

Seth Lugo might be in a better position to serve as a relief ace, he is stretched out and has the ability to go multiple innings on any given day. That is why a really nice model for Lugo to follow is Chris Devenski of the Astros.

Devenski is similar to Lugo in many ways, neither throw particularly hard as Devenski only averaged 92.4 MPH on his fastball. Devenski had a 8.64 K/9, Lugo had a 8.47 K/9 as a reliever. Also a little fun fact, both were very late picks in the draft. Devenski was a 25th rounder in 2011 while Lugo was a 34th rounder in the same year.

Lugo had a 2.65 ERA and 2.68 FIP as a reliever, comparable to Devenski’s 2.16 ERA and 2.34 FIP. Of course, Devenski had a much larger sample out of the bullpen than Lugo. However, Lugo’s success from the bullpen seems repeatable.

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Lugo doesn’t posses the elite velocity of a Noah Syndergaard yet he showed the ability to reach back and hit 96-97 on occasion last season as a starter. It’s more than possible that he will be able to do that with more frequency from the bullpen. It happens to many starters who move into the bullpen, one example that jumps to my mind is Wade Davis. Davis threw around 91-93 as a starter but when he moved into the bullpen, he started throwing it 95-98. Lugo also has the great curve ball which has registered the highest spin rate in MLB history. He can show that curve off more in the bullpen without worrying about hitters picking up on it too quickly.

The Astros deployed Devenski similar to how the Mets will likely use Lugo this season. Devenski pitched out of the rotation five times and he spent the rest of the time in the pen, which will likely be Lugo’s role when the starters need a break.

Here is a great scenario which happens too much around baseball (let’s just use the Mets and Nationals in this example): The Mets are leading 4-0 against the Nationals and the starter needs to come out with two outs in the sixth inning. They need to get 10 outs from the bullpen but one or both of their backend guys have been overworked. Then someone like say Josh Edgin or Josh Smoker gives up a two-run homerun to Bryce Harper and suddenly, Addison Reed and Jeurys Familia need to pitch more.

Instead, say someone like Lugo came in, retired Harper, got through the seventh inning for you without giving up a run, and could even pitch into the eighth. In this scenario, you can give the ball to someone like say Fernando Salas or Hansel Robles to seal the deal and save Familia and Reed from being overworked.

On some nights, Lugo can enter in the seventh or eight inning and even finish up the game. This situation happens all around baseball and many teams do not have a guy like Lugo who can pitch out of this role for them.

The relief ace is not the sexiest of roles for pitchers to attain personal accolades but it helps a team immensely. It can keep all the other pitchers in the bullpen fresh and it allows them to be used to their best abilities.

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For example, Terry won’t be forced to use Blevins against righties nor will he need to use Robles or Smoker for multiple innings. Chris Devenski had a 2.3 fWAR out of the bullpen and he helped lead the Astros to have the best bullpen in baseball during 2016. While Lugo might not get the same attention Jeurys Familia gets with his saves, his importance will be just as impactful.

Just imagine this: Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey, Steven Matz, Robert Gsellman, and Zack Wheeler leading the rotation while the relief corps are led by Familia, Addison Reed, Fernando Salas with Hansel Robles, Jerry Blevins, Josh Smoker, Paul Sewald and Seth Lugo as the relief ace. That pitching staff would make most, if not all, teams in baseball jealous.

Hopefully we use our pitching depth to it’s fullest and get the most out of this staff.

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About Dilip Sridhar 218 Articles
I became a Mets fan in the 2008 season. Since the Alderson regime, I've embraced saber-metrics and advanced stats to back up my eye tests. I study computer science at Stony Brook