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New York Mets: Analyzing pitcher Seth Lugo’s unique role in 2019

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NEW YORK, NY - JULY 15: Seth Lugo #67 of the New York Mets pitches against the Washington Nationals during their game at Citi Field on July 15, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 15: Seth Lugo #67 of the New York Mets pitches against the Washington Nationals during their game at Citi Field on July 15, 2018 in New York City. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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Seth Lugo had a productive season in the New York Mets bullpen in 2018 and looks primed for a similar role this year. He may even see some time in the starting rotation again, too.

It was one of the hotter debates throughout the course of the New York Mets season. Should Seth Lugo have been in the rotation or a mainstay in the bullpen? Fast forward to 2019 and we’re still asking the same questions with the same rotation intact.

Of all the Mets’ activity in the offseason, they did not address adding depth to the starting rotation. Also, Mickey Callaway came out in February and said that Jason Vargas’ spot in the rotation was not up for grabs. There are a couple of ways this can be viewed.

Last year, Seth was in the pen by necessity considering he was the most consistent option for a group of relievers that struggled through 2018. It benefited Lugo as well. He threw 101 innings, the exact number that he threw in 2017 as mostly a starter. His strikeout numbers went up, his home run rate was lower, and he allowed nearly three fewer hits per nine innings.

In short, Lugo has proven to be a capable fifth starter but an even better option out of the pen.

The other way to look at it is to evaluate the incumbent fifth starter in Vargas. Outside of his last appearance on Mar. 16, Vargas has put forward a tremendous spring. He also lengthened out over a four-inning shutout performance against Houston on Mar. 11.

Yet one spring training doesn’t erase a whole career’s worth of numbers. Over a sample size of 248 starts and 268 total appearances, Vargas has been hit harder the second and third time through a lineup. Below are the career slash lines against Vargas broken down by plate appearance.

  • First PA-.244/.298/.398
  • Second PA-.270/.326/.427
  • Third PA-.283/.338/.463

All the data certainly backs the notion that Vargas would be a better option as a long reliever. With Robert Gsellman on board as well, it gives the option to have Lugo and Vargas possibly dovetail off one another.

For what it’s worth, I believe we’re talking about two players who aren’t going to routinely go more than five to six innings in a start. Last season, Vargas only went longer than five innings seven times in 20 starts. In 2017, Lugo went longer than five innings 11 times in 18 starts but was pulled before the end of the sixth inning three times.

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If last year was any indication, Lugo could be a much more viable piece to the Mets’ 2019 puzzle out of the pen than Vargas. With the way the team is constructed, either Lugo or Gsellman would have to be available for longer relief outings on days when Vargas starts.

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