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What Yankees trade of Lucas Luetge says about lefty specialists in MLB – The Mercury News

The Yankees are down to just one lefty in their bullpen. On Wednesday, the Bombers traded reliever Lucas Luetge to the Atlanta Braves in exchange for prospects Indigo Diaz (a right-handed pitcher) — the Braves’ No. 23 prospect, according to MLB pipeline — and infielder Caleb Durbin.

Luetge was DFA’d by the Yankees on Dec. 21 to make room for Tommy Kahnle on the 40-man roster. The veteran southpaw hurled 129.2 innings over two seasons with the Bombers recording an ERA of 2.74 in 2021 and 2.67 in 2022. Luetge did not appear in the postseason as he was left off of the ALCS roster against the Astros.

The trade of the 35-year-old comes as Major League Baseball is trending away from the classic lefty-on-lefty specialists out of the bullpen.

Wandy Peralta is the lone southpaw in Aaron Boone’s stable and the Yankees aren’t panicking.

“I think we’ve got a couple of righties that also can get lefties out at a high rate,” said pitching coach Matt Blake after Carlos Rodon’s introductory press conference last week. “Kahnle is obviously a nice addition in that way with the big changeup that can get lefties out. Ron Marinaccio can get lefties out.”

Kahnle was incredibly effective against left-handed batters — and in general as he recorded a 2.84 ERA — in 2022 for the Dodgers as lefties slashed .154/.241/.385 in 29 plate appearances.

Marinaccio is more of the same. The 27-year-old was virtually unhittable against lefties during his breakout rookie campaign. The Toms River, N.J., native surrendered a .146/.247/.232 slashline to lefties and an overall 2.05 ERA in 44 innings for the Bombers.

For reference, lefties slashed .269/.359/.333 against Luetge in 2022.

What do Marinaccio and Kahnle have in common? A changeup.

Kahnle’s changeup accounted for 76.4% of his pitches last season and Marinaccio threw it 37.9% of the time, according to Baseball Savant. The changeup is such an effective pitch against lefties because it operates in a similar fashion to a slider against righties, darting down and away from the barrel of the hitter.

The new age of analytics in baseball has changed many things in the game such as launch angle, shifts (which are now banned), the perception of strikeouts in the box and now the idea that a pitcher is more effective against a lefty because he throws with his left hand.

It’s not just the Yankees, remember who won the World Series last season.

The Houston Astros lifted the commissioner’s trophy in November without a left-handed reliever throwing a single pitch in the postseason. Just a reminder that they had to get through star left-handed hitters such as Bryce Harper and Kyle Schwarber in the Fall Classic.

Ironically, along Houston’s path to the World Series was Yordan Alvarez taking Robbie Ray into the second deck to walk off the Mariners in Game 1 of the ALDS — a situation Ray was put into because of which hand he threw with.

The question the Yanks and ‘Stros have answered for their bullpen construction will surely make its way around the league: Why limit yourself to a specialist in the bullpen who you’d have to immediately take out once a righty comes up when you can have someone who gets both out?’

Especially with the three-batter minimum rule that was implemented in the 2020 season to speed up the pace of play. It also may have indirectly altered the thinking of teams and the amount job opportunities for pitchers like Luetge.

It’s a conversation that does not bode well for southpaws out of the bullpen.

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