Diving into Joey Lucchesi & The Churve


Diving into Joey Lucchesi & The Churve

A couple of intriguing starting pitchers changed teams in Tyler Chatwood and Joey Lucchesi on Monday. Both guys have several concerns and questions surrounding their profile, but let's dive into Lucchesi a teeny bit. The San Diego Padres sent Joey Lucchesi to the New York Mets in a three-team trade that included the Pittsburgh Pirates. It's important to note that Lucchesi doesn't project to fit into the Mets' starting rotation. 

With that said, Lucchesi likely starts in a relief role and provides the Mets with some starting pitcher depth. Unsurprisingly, Lucchesi has an NFBC ADP close to pick 700. So why am I analyzing this guy? Well, it's because I love digging into deep sleepers in case they surface again in the fantasy baseball landscape. With that said, let's dive into Joey Lucchesi as we consider his surface stats, pitch mix, splits, and 2021 outlook.

Joey Lucchesi, P, New York Mets

Joey Lucchesi barely pitched in 2020 since the Padres didn't need him. However, we know he flashes the changeup/curve or the "churve," as some call it. We call it a churve because Fangraphs labels it as a changeup while Baseball Savant calls it a curveball. Lucchesi himself even calls it a churve. Regardless, Lucchesi used this so-called churve as his second most used pitch. We'll mostly analyze Lucchesi's 2019 stats and metrics since he only pitched 5.2 innings in 2020. 

When looking at 2018, Joey Lucchesi performed decently with a 4.08 ERA and 1.29 WHIP to go along with a 26.5% strikeout rate and a 7.8% walk rate in 130 innings. In 2019, Lucchesi made 30 starts with 163.2 innings pitched, a 4.18 ERA, and 1.22 WHIP. He recorded a 23% strikeout rate and 8.2% walk rate that dropped slightly from his 2018 numbers. In 2019, Lucchesi tossed six innings in 12 starts, and 11 of them ended up as quality starts. In the 11 quality starts in 2019, he allowed two or fewer runs in nine of those starts. Although he averaged 5.44 innings per start, he recorded a quality start in 37% of his starts in 2019. 

Splits

Joey Lucchesi faced right-handed hitters a ton more and thus threw 73.8% of his sinkers and 78.2% of his churves against righties. That means opposing teams pack their lineup with right-handed hitters when facing Lucchesi, which isn't uncommon. Another note on Lucchesi - he hardly goes six or seven innings. However, when he does, his ERA and WHIP blow up, which isn't too surprising given the small sample. In 2019, Lucchesi threw 19 innings combined, or 11.6% of his total innings in the sixth or seventh inning.

It's also evident when looking at times through the order. Lucchesi holds a 3.51 ERA 1st time through the order in 125.2 IP and a 3.56 ERA the 2nd time through (124 IP) in his career. Meanwhile, Lucchesi posted a putrid 7.58 ERA in 48.2 innings the 3rd time through the order. Lucchesi pitched much better at home throughout his career with a 3.25 ERA and .293 wOBA allowed in 174.1 innings. However, he struggled a bit on the road with a 5.54 ERA and .343 wOBA allowed in 125 innings pitched.

Pitch Mix

Next, let's dig into his pitch mix. Joey Lucchesi holds a career 45.7% ground ball rate, but sinker results in a career 50.6% ground ball rate. We'd like to see the sinker have a higher groundball rate when considering other sinker heavy pitchers and their ground ball rates. For reference, Dallas Keuchel, who primarily uses a sinker, boasts a 69.8% ground ball rate. Lucchesi mostly used two pitches with the sinker at 51.3% and the churve usage at 35.1% in 2019. He lowered the sinker usage in 2019 from 63.7% in 2018. Meanwhile, he added a cutter that he used 13.6% of the time in 2019. Lucchesi probably needs a third pitch given the mediocre success with his sinker and churve arsenal. 

Pitch Results

Over Joey Lucchesi's career, he rocks a 6.8% swinging-strike rate on his sinker and a 17.7% swinging-strike rate on the churve. When comparing 2018 and 2019, those numbers finished relatively similar. On Baseball Savant, Lucchesi's sinker resulted in a 16% whiff rate in 2018 and a 17.9% whiff rate in 2019. Meanwhile, his churve finished with a 42.4% whiff rate in 2018 and a 38.6% whiff rate in 2019. The table below shows the pitch results on both the sinker and the churve in 2018 and 2019. We notice a slight decline with the churve, which is something to monitor moving forward. 

Joey Lucchesi Pitch Results 

The Churve

In 2018 and 2019, Joey Lucchesi ranked 1st with 10.1 inches (2018) and 8.8 inches (2019) of vertical movement on the churve, which means his churve drops a ton. It's a relatively filthy pitch, and thankfully Lucchesi uses it 35% of the time. He recorded 145 strikeouts on his churve compared to 139 strikeouts on the sinker in 2018 and 2019. However, it's hard to rely on any starting pitcher that experiences success with only one pitch.

When looking at Alex Chamberlain's Pitch Leaderboard, Joey Lucchesi's churve ranked 12th with a 29.8% called strike plus whiff rate (CSW%) in 2019 and 2020, with a minimum of 500 changeups thrown. Given the same pitch total threshold, in 2019 and 2020, Lucchesi's churve resulted in a 22.2% K-BB% (No. 15). Not overwhelming, but not terrible either.

Lucchesi's release point on his churve varies from the sinker and cutter by 3.6 inches. With that said, hitters could know the churve is coming and potentially lay off it in certain situations. The blue dots below show the release point of the churve. A small detail, but still noticeable.

Lucchesi's Pitch Release Points

2021 Outlook

Currently, Joey Lucchesi projects as a swingman that may make the occasional start for the Mets. Hopefully, he uses the cutter more often in 2021 since he probably needs a third pitch. Of course, we'll mention Lucchesi's unique delivery that's deceptive to some extent with the high leg kick and jerky movements. When we compare the Mets and Padres home ballpark factors, Citi Field and Petco Park rank similar in terms of wOBA and home runs with a slight uptick for right-handed hitters, which he'll face often. 

Given the lack of innings pitched for starters in 2020, several teams mentioned the idea of using a six-man rotation. That makes sense given the workload bump from 2020 to 2021, especially for some pitchers that logged zero to no innings pitched outside of workout sessions. With that said, it could mean opportunities for Lucchesi to work into the Mets rotation for a spot start from time to time.

Over the past month, Joey Lucchesi holds a 703.53 NFBC ADP. It's okay to laugh a bit at the ADP. He's possibly worth a late-round pick in best-ball leagues or someone to monitor as a streamer during the season. We also need to see if he adjusts the release point on his churve closer to his sinker and cutter. Overall, it seems Lucchesi raises more concerns than reasons for optimism.

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Photo Credit: Getty Images

Data Sources: Fangraphs, Baseball Savant, and Alex Chamberlain's Pitch Leaderboard


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