Seth Lugo Has Given the Royals’ Starting Rotation the Jolt it Needed

Starting pitcher Seth Lugo has given the Royals' rotation exactly what it needed most this year: an experienced veteran presence.

TORONTO, ON - MAY 01: Seth Lugo #67 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch in the first inning during a game against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre on May 01, 2024 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)

Seth Lugo had some really good seasons pitching out of the bullpen for the New York Mets, and could have had a lucrative career as a reliever. But the righty long expressed a desire to be a full-time starting pitcher, and made the best of an opportunity with the San Diego Padres a year ago, pitching to a 3.57 ERA over a career-high 146 1/3 innings pitched.

Lugo’s work with the Padres earned him a three-year, $45 million deal with the Kansas City Royals, a pact that includes a player opt-out after the 2025 season. So far, that deal looks like a bargain for the upstart Royals.

Across his first six starts in Kansas City, Lugo has a 1.60 ERA and 3.45 FIP over 45 innings pitched. For whatever it’s worth, his five wins are tied for the best mark in the American League currently as well.

The arsenal of pitches that Lugo uses to get batters out is an interesting one.

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Lugo’s fourseam fastball sits at 92.5 mph, so it’s not overpowering. Still, opponents are hitting just .139 against it. A big reason for that is because he’s in the 96th percentile for fastball run value, so even if he’s not throwing in the high-90s, there’s quite a bit of deception on his primary pitch.

Overall, Lugo is in the 98th percentile for pitch run value, according to Baseball Savant. So far this season, he’s thrown his fastball 25% of the time, while also mixing in a curveball (24.2%), sinker (22.4%), slider (14.9%), cutter (6.8%) and changeup (6.6%). Without a high-90s fastball, having a wide variety of pitches you can rely on helps to keep the batter on edge. Lugo has a deep repertoire of effective pitches, as opponents are hitting under .200 against the curveball, slider and changeup in 2024.

Seth Lugo Has Given the Royals A Reliable Veteran Presence

So far, Lugo has been a strong No. 2 in the rotation, with Cole Ragans — who has a minuscule 2.15 FIP over seven starts — proving that the ace-level he pitched at after being acquired from the Texas Rangers last summer isn’t a fluke.

There’s definitely a case to be made that Lugo would be better cast as a No. 3 starter on a playoff team, although both Alec Marsh (currently on the IL with a right elbow contusion) and Brady Singer have also looked good early in 2024 as well. If Michael Wacha — another former Padre that the Royals signed to a multi-year deal this past offseason — rebounds from a slow start, the Royals project to have a deep rotation, even if it’s one that probably needs another frontline arm.

At the very least, the addition of Lugo has been a big part in the Royals being very much in the AL playoff picture early in 2024. And a year after they won just 56 games, that’s a pretty good place to be.