Saturday, March 31, 2012

Cory Luebke, Padres Agree to Extension

[caption id="attachment_1037" align="alignnone" width="187" caption="Credit: Associated Press"][/caption]

Joining Padres teammates Cameron Maybin and Nick Hundley in the early extension category, breakout lefty Cory Luebke signed through 2015 with two club options at the end, which would take him through his first year of scheduled free agency.  After starting 2011 in a long relief role, Luebke had a good showing as a starter in the second half, leaving him as the probable #2 starter this season.  His ERA was good at 3.29, but his 2.93 FIP and 2.89 SIERA show signs of elite performance possible.

Looking deeper into the stats, his success may not be completely sustainable.  First, his K rates were never close to last year's 27.7%  in the minors, a common phenomenon with rookie pitchers.  The only time he was even above 20% was his '09 stint in A+ as a 24-year-old, a year older than the average pitcher in the league.  His stuff isn't tremendous, starting with a 4-seamer at 91-92, inducive to whiffs and flyballs.  He also mixed in a 2-seamer 2-3% of the time, having some run but no sink.

His slider was his most effective offspeed pitch, sitting at 83-84 was decent depth.  His ~23% usage is about as high as you want a starter to have.  Otherwise you get a Tommy John candidate, much like Francisco Liriano and Brett Anderson.  He does sprinkle a curve in there less than 5%, sitting around 76-77 with little depth.  He also has a change with great movement, 84-85 with good fade and great depth.  Despite the great PITCHf/x numbers, he only threw it about 7% of the time, had trouble keeping it down, which rendered it ineffective.

Another source of leeriness is his batted ball profile.  As a reliever, he allowed only 15% line drives and got his groundball rate up to 48%.  As a starter, he allowed 25% line drives and 35% groundballs, much worse.  The lack of groundballs is muted some by pitching half his games in PETCO, but allowing more line drives is always a bad thing for a pitcher.  I don't expect his LD% to stay that high, but with his current stuff, I don't see his GB% rising above 40%.

On a good note, Luebke dominated lefties, allowing a 1.71 FIP and not allowing a home run in 155 PA.  As a starter, this advantage is lessened some, since a manager can take out his marginal lefties out of the lineup.  Oddly, he also had an ERA 1.5 runs higher at home, despite being in the best pitcher's park in the majors.  PETCO hurts LHH more than RHH, and since LHP face more RHH, the full effect of PETCO is not realized.

Overall, I expect Luebke's K rate to go down significantly, to somewhere around 20%.  His other rates should stay fairly static, leaving him with a 3.30-3.50 FIP, better than average but not great.  He'll likely have an innings limit south of 175 innings, which leaves him in the 2-3 WAR range.  He's also 27 years old, so by the time the club options come up, specifically the second one, it might be a better option to let him go, but the Padres should save a bit of money before that time.

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