Digging For Saves: Could Josh Lueke Emerge In Tampa Bay?

The trade that recently sent John Jaso to Seattle in exchange for Josh Lueke and a player to be named later has probably gone virtually ignored by many.  While Jaso could emerge as the starting catcher for the Mariners, he is coming off a season where he hit .224 and has never shown the propensity to hit for much power.  In other words, he’s a player to monitor as a short-term fill-in (especially in two-catcher formats), but not much more.

The real intrigue from this trade lies with Lueke, which certainly is going to catch many by surprise.  He only threw 32.2 innings for the Mariners last season, posting a 6.06 ERA and 1.44 WHIP.  What exactly is supposed to interest us from those numbers?

The fact is Lueke is the quintessential Rays’ acquisition.  He’s a player that no one else has on their radars, but his potential to fill a vital part of the team’s bullpen remains high.  Keep in mind that, while he struggled in the Major Leagues, he posted a .327 BABIP and 56.6% strand rate. 

Lueke was originally acquired by the Mariners as part of the trade that sent Cliff Lee to Texas in 2010 and there is a reason that the Mariners wanted him.  Over his minor league career he has posted a K/9 of 10.66, compared to a BB/9 of 2.29.  While the strikeouts were down at Triple-A last season (7.44 K/9), he still showed tremendous control with a 2.55 BB/9.

That type of ratio is what teams lust for from a bullpen arm, especially given the potential for his strikeouts to return.  As it is, during his time in the Major Leagues his fastball averaged 93.6 mph.  Would it really be a surprise if the 27-year old righty returned to striking out a batter per inning? 

Even without the strikeouts he posted a 2.76 ERA and 1.09 WHIP over his 42.1 innings at Triple-A in ’11.  You can say there was a little bit of luck considering his .268 BABIP and 68.6% strand rate, but those are not numbers that are impossible to replicate from a relief pitcher.  Even if they were to regress, an improvement in the strikeout rate would help to offset them.

The Tampa Bay Rays are a team that is constantly in transition, especially in the bullpen, but they have proven that they know how to find talent.  Last season Kyle Farnsworth was the team’s closer, posting a 2.18 ERA and 25 saves in 57.2 IP.  Would anyone have predicted that?  That said, does anyone really expect him to be able to repeat it (especially with a 84.9% strand rate)?

If Farnsworth gets off to a slow start, do not think that the Rays will hold off on making a change.  They have proven time and time again that they are willing to do what is necessary to win ballgames.  Jake McGee, who was a sleeper prior to 2011, could once again be in the mix but I wouldn’t write-off Lueke’s potential to emerge as well.

Whenever you have a relief pitcher who has the potential to strikeout a ton of batters to go along with good control, you have a potential closer in the making.  He should be on the radar of all fantasy owners, though that doesn’t make him a draft day target (outside of AL-only formats).  Just keep the name filed away in the back of your mind and be ready to make a move if the opportunity presents itself.

What are your thoughts of Lueke?  Is there any chance he provides value in 2012?  Why or why not?


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One comment

  1. jmax says:

    I hate when guys post something unrelated to Roto’s article but….
    Does anyone know of a Keeper or Dynasty league in need of an owner?? I take it very seriously and want to play in a serious league

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