Luetge and Leverage
This morning’s game in Detroit featured an appearance by the M’s 2011 Rule 5 Draft pick, Lucas Luetge. And not just typical mop-up duty – Luetge came in with the tying run in scoring position and one out in the 7th. As if that weren’t enough, Miguel Olivo upped the ante by allowing the runner to move to 3rd. This isn’t a spot I figured we’d see Luetge, even if Charlie Furbush had already pitched. I suppose I’m too used to Luis Ugueto and Sean White so the idea that the M’s might treat this year’s Rule 5 kid as a full-fledged member of the pen and not just the designated garbage-timer caught me by surprise. de
Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference both track the average leverage of every appearance by a pitcher. This measures how important the situation (or group of situations) is; essentially, it uses Win Probability to show which plate appearances or situations most affect the outcome of a game. Given the nature of the beast, the later in a game, the higher the leverage. The closer the score, the higher the leverage. This is one of the handy statistics that essentially gives a number to something that any casual fan can see; this is operationalizing common sense. We know that a reliever getting out of a bases-loaded, 1 out jam in the 7th inning of a tie game has done more for his team than a pitcher who comes in with a three run lead to start the 9th, but everyone loves saves, and teams still pay handsomely to those who’ve racked them up.
Today’s appearance by Luetge came in at 3.42, compared to an average of 1.0. As you’d expect, this was considerably more tense than most relief appearances, and certainly more tense than anything Luetge’d faced before. For reference, his appearance in yesterday’s blowout registered a 0.03, and his first major league win (in Texas) came in at just 0.29. He’d had two higher leverage, late-inning appearances, but nothing on this level (both were below 2.0). This got me to wondering which Rule 5 picks had faced situations like this before; which guys were entrusted with crucial plate appearances instead of being saved for blowouts. I decided to look at the highest pLI (the average leverage index of each plate appearance in a pitcher’s outing) for all Rule 5 pitchers since 2000. This is somewhat tricky, as I don’t have a PBP database, and I’m not sure how to flag Rule 5 guys if I had one. So I’ve tried to do this manually, which is why I stopped relatively recently, and why I may have missed someone who may have been pressed into duty in a 16 inning game and who I’ve unfairly overlooked. If you find some, let me know. If you know of others from the 80s/90s, say so.
From what I can see, Luetge’s 3.42 ranks a mere 20th in the highest leverage appearances for Rule 5 pitchers since 2000. That’s pretty surprising to me, actually, and I can’t even blame it on a peculiar Mariner penchant for keeping Rule 5 guys in the back of the pen: it’s not the highest LI for a MARINER Rule 5 guy since 2000. When I mentioned my question about Rule 5 pitchers and high-leverage appearances on twitter, Kenny Ocker immediately came up with Joakim Soria, who became the Royals closer in his Rule 5 year in 2007. Indeed, Soria’s high of 4.8 came in a save situation in May – a save that Soria blew. That’s easily higher than Luetge’s, but it’s not as high as Aquilino Lopez’s 5.91 in May of 2003. Lopez was a Rule 5 pick by the Blue Jays from the Mariners, and you may remember Lopez from his great 2002 season with Tacoma. Lopez had a great 2003, and actually racked up 1.1 WAR with a sub-4.0 FIP for the Jays, but never recaptured that form again. On August 8th, he entered a game against the Rangers with 1 out in the 9th with a 5-3 lead, the bases loaded. A strikeout and a groundout later, he had himself a save and the second-highest leverage appearance for a recent Rule 5er.
The top spot belongs to another Royal, Sammamish, WA. product Andy Sisco. Perhaps it’s not surprising that a team that would give the closer job to a Rule 5 guy a year later would entrust Sisco with so many high leverage appearances, but Sisco had 3 3.0+ LIs by the the time April was out, and it was barely May when he entered a 1-0 game against the White Sox with two on and one out in the 8th. He got a groundout that moved up the runners, then walked the bases loaded….and then walked in the tying run. He was pulled, and the next reliever walked in the go-ahead run and a Zach Greinke gem turned into a very Royals loss (every M’s fan shakes their head knowingly). The pLI for that appearance? 6.34.
I mentioned earlier that Luetge’s escape wasn’t even the highest leverage appearance for a Mariner Rule 5 reliever. I’d completely blanked this, but just ahead of Luetge in 19th spot sits Kanekoa Texeira who put up a 3.51 pLI in his very first appearance in an M’s uniform. Texeira got the loss in a 2-1 defeat to Oakland on April 6th, 2010. He was the 4th pitcher for the M’s, and the game went to extras, so the M’s didn’t have a whole lot of choice, I suppose. He came in to start the 9th in a 1-1 game and escaped trouble after allowing a single and a double. The A’s got to him in the 10th, however, with three singles – the last of which was a Mark Ellis walk-off. I think what makes this particular game so hard to remember is the fact that the M’s starter – the guy who gave up 1 run in 6 solid innings – was Ian Snell. I’m sure I watched this game, and I’m looking at the box score which I don’t think’s been altered, but I literally can’t imagine an Ian Snell start so efficient and effective. When I think of Ian Snell, he’s looking hard-done-by and handing the ball to the manager. I know he had talent and I remember watching his first Seattle appearance excitedly (it was after a USSM event at Safeco, I think), but I simply don’t remember anything good coming from his time in this organization. I seriously have trouble imagining him getting a routine fly ball. This is my problem, not yours, and I’ve already sullied a rather focused piece with this nonsense. I’m sorry.
Let’s wrap up with a couple of leaderboards. First, here’s the top 5 (that I found) leverage appearances for Rule 5 pitchers since 2000:
1: Andy Sisco, 5/5/05 – 6.34
2: Aquilino Lopes, 8/2/03 – 5.91
3: Joakim Soria, 5/20/07 – 4.80
4: DJ Carrasco, 4/30/03 – 4.67
5: Jay Marshall, 5/15/07 – 4.49
And here’s the highest average LI over the course of the season for Rule 5 relievers- here’s who was trusted in key spots consistently, as opposed to pitching solely in blowouts:
1: Joakim Soria, 2007 – 1.64
2: Andy Sisco, 2005 – 1.29
3: Aquilino Lopez, 2003, 1.24
4: Pedro Beato, 2011, 1.23
5: DJ Carrasco, 2003, 1.15
2003 really was a great year for Rule 5 pitchers. Lopez had the biggest year, but two Rule 5 pitchers are still (somewhat) active – Carrasco’s on a rehab assignment in the Mets system and Javier Lopez is a key member of the San Francisco Giants bullpen. What about the most famous Rule 5 pitcher of his generation, Johan Santana? Well, Santana was used pretty much the way I expected most would be used – he got garbage time relief appearances before making a couple of starts late in the year. Starts generally have lower LI, so Santana ends up with a very low average LI and a very low high pLI game. The average high pLI game was 3.22, and the average season gmLI was 0.77.
Seriously, Ian Snell? 6IP, 1R, 4H? Really? This really happened?