Strong takes are my thing. Whether it be needling Baseball Prospectus over their Jorge Alfaro ranking, clashing with consensus over Rhys Hoskins, or why Shohei Ohtani wasn’t a bust before he ever threw his first regular season pitch. My opinions are strong, and I’m not one to back down if I truly believe something based on first hand looks and research. I mean, don’t even get me started on the “newly-promoted” Tyler O’Neill takes. It’s almost as if I’m the head of my very own agency, lobbying for my players value like Scott Boras with a briefcase of binders. Yet another player who’s represented by my pretend “on-line defense agency” is Padres rookie phenom Joey Lucchesi. I ranked him 161st in my mid-season 2017 Top 200 prospects, and even predicted a 2018 MLB debut. I’m not alone on this site in my love for Lucchesi, my best friend since forever, Lance, wrote about him as a deep sleeper in late March. There’s also this tweet I tossed out there in December. Needless to say, without further chest thumping, I’m a fan of Lucchesi. There’s been a bit of misinformation out there regarding his repertoire, pedigree, etc. Today I hope to set some of that straight after watching his most recent turn against the San Francisco retirement home.
Scouting Report: I wrote a whole bunch of words regarding Lucchesi in my Sunday morning post just a few short days ago. It was prior to this start, so it is 100% unaffected by this start. Here’s what I had to say, “This Padres system is so deep that a pitcher I hold in high regard can drop all the way to the teens. Despite his detractors, and skeptics, Lucchesi has defied the odds and found success in the early part of his major league career. Pig-backing a meteoric rise through the Friars system in just a season and a half. A combination of stuff, pitchability, and deception, from a downright awkward delivery, has continued to baffle the competition across several levels. Lucchesi’s fastball sits 90-94, but generates lots of swings and misses, with it’s angle, movement, and pinpoint accuracy. Lucchesi’s changeup sits 80-82, and gives the looks of his curveball out of his hand. So far in his MLB career the lefty has been heavy on fastball-changeup, perhaps some curveballs were incorrectly marked. It comes as a surprise that it’s a pitch he’d stay away from, as it was regarded as a solid above-average offering during his time in the minors. There’s two camps with Lucchesi; those that believe Lucchesi’s luck will eventually run out, and big league hitters will unlock the code, or those like myself, that believe Lucchesi is truly good at all the little things, and though unorthodox, feel his attention to detail will drive continued success.” I failed to mention in this blurb that Lucchesi has one of the better pickoff moves in the minors, and that he’s actually the first pitcher (second player), to make it to the majors from the 2016 draft. We’ll try and differentiate the curves and the changes in this post, but it’s hard, as the changeup is essentially a curveball with a changeup grip.
He throws three pitches, whether you choose to believe it or not, he confirms it, those that followed him coming-up-in-the-minors confirm it, and Padres pitching coach Darren Balsley confirms it. There’s also been this narrative that Lucchesi throws about as hard as Kyle Hendricks. His fastball tops out at 93-94, and sat 91-92 during several starts in AA last season. But the biggest question marks regarding Lucchesi surround his mechanics. He has a long, complicated delivery with a windup that starts above his head, like some cliche pitcher out of baseball’s “deadball era”. Needless to say this earns him the label of “deceptive lefty”. That label is never a vote of confidence from scouts, and their often pre-conceived notions about players they place in certain buckets. There’s no denying that Lucchesi has met each level with results that exceed expectations, and packs a combination of swing and miss, deception, and command. Let’s see what he’s got.
First Inning: First batter of the game, Austin Jackson, gets a middle-middle 0-1 fastball that he takes for a ride to center. But before it can do any damage, it’s caught, as he’s retired by Franchy Cordero at the warning track. Lucchesi got away with one there. The following batter, Joe Panik, grounds an inside fastball to first base for the second out. Tough angle on the righty, as the fastball seemed to cut in on his hands. Starts Andrew McCutchen out with fastball on the outer-part of the plate for a called strike one, follows up with his first off-speed pitch of the game, getting a chase on a high changeup for strike two. A 92 MPH fastball is bounced to third base, as Villenueva tosses to first for the final out of the inning.
Summary: Outside of the first pitch of the game, 7 of Lucchesi’s 8 pitches were strikes, including two called strikes on the two-seamer. Locating well after the mistake to Jackson. Good inning.
Stats: 8 pitches, 7 strikes, 1 swinging strike, 0 runs, 0 hits, 0 BB.
Second Inning: Opens up against cleanup hitter Nick Hundley, who proceeds to drop one into the outfield for a hit. This is followed by another hit to right on a liner by Evan Longoria, after the former Ray gets a fastball inside on a 1-1 count. Threw a curveball in the Longoria at bat too. Little more loopy, with less dive than the changeup. Lucchesi gets up on Hunter Pence 1-2, before dropping a curveball on him for a swinging third strike. Next he’s up on Belt 1-2, before Lucchesi gets a pop-up deep on the third baseline, one that Villenueva rushes for but just misses on a sliding dive. Next pitch, Belt hits a changeup to rightfield, it hangs up just long enough for Hundley to beat the throw to the plate by Jose Pirela for the game’s first run. The lefty works the count full to number 8 hitter Kelby Tomlinson, before he gets a whiff on the outer part of the plate from a nasty changeup.
Summary: Tough inning for Lucchesi, had a couple of balls drop in for hits, and then Hundley scored on a sacrifice fly. He settled down after that to get the punchout of Kelby Tomlinson after running the count full.
Stats: 23 pitches, 17 strikes, 3 swinging strikes, 1 run, 2 hits, 0 BB
Third Inning: Opens the frame with a punchout of Tyler Beede on three pitches, including the called strike three below. Nice pitch as Lucchesi lands it on the black with the changeup. Next batter he falls behind 2-1 to Austin Jackson, before the journeyman drops a hit in this time, as he takes a changeup to center for a bloop hit. In the following at bat Lucchesi gets Joe Panik to bite on a 1-0 fastball high in the zone, and the second baseman slaps a groundball to the first baseman, who starts the inning-ending double play.
Summary: Nice bit of pitching there, no hard hit outs, even the hit that dropped in there, was a bloop. He’s commanding his stuff well, and hitting his spots.
Stats: 9 pitches, 6 strikes, 2 swinging strikes, 0 runs, 1 hit, 0 BB
Fourth Inning: Starts out Cutch, fastball, changeup, changeup, curve, before getting the veteran All-Star to bite on a changeup in on his hands. See Below… Next up is Hundley, who gets up 2-1 on Lucchesi, before hitting a ball between the shortstop and second base for another base hit. Lucchesi then gets down 2-0 on Evan Longoria, before tossing three straight strikes, including a questionable curve at the top of the zone. Seeking revenge in the next at bat, Gangly Manbird-Hunter Pence exacts revenge, dropping a single to left. The lefty comes back the next at bat to strike out Brandon Belt, after running the count full. Inning over…
Summary: Couple of weekly hit balls dropped. But other than that Lucchesi K’d two all-stars this inning, and got a third on Belt. Nibbled a little more, but it looks as if he’s trying to get some chases on balls further out of the zone.
Stats: 22 pitches, 13 strikes, 4 swinging strikes, 0 runs, 2 hits, 0 BB
Fifth Inning: Starts the fifth off getting into a full count with Kelby Tomlinson to leadoff the inning. He stifles the threat with a weak flyball to center. Gets up 1-2 on Gorkys Hernandez before making him look silly on the fourth pitch of the at bat, a curveball high and tight on the inside. See below… Next up is nemesis Austin Jackson, who Lucchesi runs the count full on, before getting him to bite on a curveball on the outside.
Summary: Really nice inning from Lucchesi, he had to battle back, but he won all three battles, to have his best inning of the game. Not a lot of hard contact today outside of that deep flyball from Austin Jackson in the first at bat of the game.
Stats: 19 Pitches, 12 strikes, 2 swinging swings, 0 runs, 0 hits, 0 BB
Sixth Inning: second pitch of the inning gets a ground ball to first from Joe Panik. Easiest outs of the game have come off the bat of Panik. Lucchesi then gets up on Cutch 0-2, before dropping in a nasty changeup for a check strike three. The final batter Lucchesi faces on the day is Nick Hundley, who Lucchesi retires on just two pitches.
Summary: Even better inning from Lucchesi, getting a two groundouts from Panik and Nick Hundley, with the strikeout of Cutch wedged in-between. Very good outing, and he’s done for the day after getting through 6 innings on just 88 pitches.
Stats: 7 pitches, 6 strikes, 2 swinging strikes, 0 runs, 0 hits, 0 BB
Final Line: 88 pitches, 54 strikes, 14 swinging strikes, 5 hits, 1 runs, 0 Bb, 9 Ks, W, Gamescore: 72
Conclusion: The fastball sat 90-92 all day long, with both the changeup and curve hitting spots high and low in the zone, on the inside and outside part of the plate. The changeup is used far more frequently in on the hands, and on the outer-part of the plate, while the curveball tends to be used earlier in counts, high in the zone. They bleed together, but the changeup dives a little more, while the curveball is more loopy. His command of the fastball was very good, making a couple of mistakes, but all in all he spotted it very well to both sides of the plate, using it effectively to drive pop-ups a couple times up-in-the-zone. While I do not expect this sort of success to continue, I do see Lucchesi as a higher upside number three, with a true swing and miss pitch, and above average control. With the backdrop of Petco, Lucchesi should be held in all formats until further notice. This isn’t a multi-time all-star, but it wouldn’t shock me if he returned more value than Kevin Gausman, Eduardo Rodriguez, and host of other highly rostered starters.