A Diamond in the Rough: A Joey Lucchesi Deep Dive
I was watching Aladdin not that long ago, and the way the movie is set up, the villain Jafar is secretly plotting to find the Genie’s magical lamp and rule all of Agrabah. In order for Jafar to obtain the lamp, he is told by the Cave of Wonders that he must seek out the “diamond in the rough.” When you’re a Disney Plus family and “A Whole New World” is on its fourth go around, it’s probably time to think about sleepers in your upcoming NFBC draft. In this article, I’ll dive deep in search of that diamond in the rough that could help bring you title glory.
Note: All ADP is pitcher ADP and based off of NFBC, which does include relievers. Also, all ADP was as of 1/28.
Joey Lucchesi, SP, San Diego Padres
NFBC DC ADP: 228.8
Joey Lucchesi is my Aladdin. He is my Prince Ali, my fabulous he, my Ali Ababwa! Heading into the 2020 season, he’s been overshadowed by the likes of Chris Paddack, Dinelson Lamet, and even MacKenzie Gore. His 2019 season was a mixed bag, as he finished with a high SIERA rate (4.48), and a below-average ERA (4.18). The bad! On the flip-side, he also finished with an above-average K/BB (2.82) an average FIP (4.17) and a solid WHIP (1.22). The good!
Lucchesi possesses three pitches. He uses that herky-jerky delivery to throw a sinker, change, and cutter. Can he make some adjustments to his arsenal to be more effective this year? Let’s take a quick glance at what he did in ‘19 and what can be expected from him in ‘20.
The sinker was Lucchesi’s most thrown pitch during the 2019 season. Do you know that feeling you get from sliding into your favorite pair of weekend sweats? That was what Lucchesi’s sinker was to him in ‘19. A comfortable (he threw it 50.3% of the time), totally reliable (a solid 9.7 pVal) not entirely pretty (6.9 SwStr%, low velocity of 90.1 and a scary 18.8 HR/FB% ) pitch. Why am I optimistic that the sinker gets better in ‘20? From ‘18-’19 the pitch has gotten better as his K% and GB% have all gone up while his BAA and HR/FB% have gone down. His sinker is his most dependable pitch, one that allows him to put up solid numbers that show improvement across the board.
In an interview with the San Diego Union-Tribune in April of 2018, Lucchesi was quoted as saying that the changeup/curveball is his, "favorite go-to pitch.” While playing catch with former teammate Eric Lauer (now with the Milwaukee Brewers), Lucchesi started experimenting with different grips and release points. Since the action on the ball wasn’t quite that of a curveball or change up, the two started calling it a “Churve” and the name stuck. At 35% thrown, hitters can’t hit it (.178 AVG) and with a 16.8 SwStr% you can see why. Lucchesi’s “churve,” is already an awesome weapon. With another year to hone his grip and mechanics, what’s not to like?
Sadly, this is where I jump off the Lucchesi magic carpet ride. His cutter/four-seam fastball has very little movement, very little swinging-strike rate (7%) and very little velocity for a cutter/four-seamer (90.4 mph). This is easily the worst pitch in his repertoire as he only throws it 13.5% of the time and opponents feast on it for average at .291. All of these things lead to why Lucchesi is developing his latest pitch.
Dennis Lin from The Athletic wrote in his roster projection article on the San Diego Padres that,
“Lucchesi said at FanFest that he has been cultivating a yet-to-be-revealed addition to his repertoire. The pitch is undoubtedly intended to help the left-hander work deeper into games, though the Padres’ newly reinforced bullpen could lessen the need to do so.”
Nothing gets me more jazzed than hearing the phrase,”Mystery pitch.” I’ve already subscribed to MLB.TV to catch all his spring training games. (Don’t tell my wife). If Lucchesi can replace his cutter/four-seam fastball with this new pitch that helps him stay in games longer, then I’m 100% behind it. The reason? Notice the drastic differences between his first and second halves.
1st Half - 3.94 ERA - .279 wOBA - 8.63 K/9 - 18.8 K-BB% - 3.77 FIP
2nd Half- 4.52 ERA - .324 wOBA - 8.78 K/9 - 12.3 K-BB% - 4.75 FIP
It's not rocket science to conclude that his second half was worse. Here's his usage rate difference for his three pitches during that same time period.
1st Half - Cutter/Four-Seam - 13% - Sinker - 48 % - Churve - 37.9%
2nd Half- Cutter/Four-Seam -16.5% - Sinker - 52.5% - Churve - 29.2%
He had the same amount of strikeouts, more walks, a higher wOBA, higher ERA, and a higher FIP. He essentially started throwing his worst pitch more, his sweatpant pitch the same and his best pitch less. Stay tuned to see how this new mystery pitch is unveiled.
Shining, Shimmering, Splendid?
Overall, the key to Lucchesi’s success will be improving his command, most notably his sinker, utilizing his “churve” and developing this new mystery pitch to take the place of his cutter/four-seamer. If he can do that, I believe that we’re looking at the breakout star that was supposed to come last year. Lucchesi is still young at 26 years old and is entering his third season in the bigs. I’ll happily take that chance on him at his current ADP of 228.8. Others being drafted around him include the 2019 bust Miles Mikolas (ADP 226.4), and the unproven two-faced Jose Urquidy (ADP: 235.7). Overall, Luchessi ranked just outside the top 30 in swinging-strike rate. While that might not be the be all end all, combine that with his ground ball rate (one of the best in the leagues at 47%), and he may be one of the best draft day steals.