Looking Back, Moving Forward: Can Josh Lueke Carve Out a Role?

By David Hill

Mar 2, 2013; Port Charlotte, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays relief pitcher Josh Lueke (52) throws against the Baltimore Orioles during the top of the sixth inning of a spring training game at Charlotte Sports Park. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

The history of baseball is littered with players that have been able to dominate at the minor league level, but could not carry that success over to the major leagues. Players like Brad Komminsk, Joey Meyers and Matt Ginter all were great minor league players, but could not deliver when giving the opportunity in the majors, getting the designation of the Quad-A player. At this point, it may be fair to wonder if Josh Lueke is going to be that type of player.

With the issues that the Rays had in the bullpen at times at the start of the season, Lueke was given chances to be able to impact the major league roster. While he did well in his first four appearances, Lueke finished the year with an 0-2 record and a 5.06 ERA. Featuring a fastball in the lower 90’s with an excellent sinker, Lueke was able to strike out 25 batters in his 21.1 innings, but he also walked 12 over that span. Compare those numbers to his time in Durham, where he saved 17 games with a truly dominant 0.63 ERA, striking out 81 batters in 57.1 innings of work. Clearly, it would seem as though Lueke has nothing left to prove at the AAA level.

Yet, despite his solid AAA numbers, Lueke has yet to find that success at the major league level, putting together an ERA of 6.44 over parts of three seasons. Is it possible that Lueke is yet another pitcher to be added to the list of Quad-A players?

His fate may be determined next season. With the potential holes in the Rays bullpen, Lueke may be given another chance to prove that he can perform at the major league level. On a team with possible needs at closer and in middle relief, having someone with the ability to generate strikeouts as Lueke has been able to throughout his career would certainly help. The biggest key to Lueke’s effectiveness may well be his control. If he is able to harness his stuff and begin challenging hitters as he has done in the minors, Lueke could prove to be an effective arm coming out of the bullpen.

Lueke has also been victimized by poor luck on balls in play over his career. The major league average for batting average on balls in play is .296; Lueke has a career rate of .361. Coupled with his control issues, that higher rate is a recipe for disaster. Could Lueke prove to be the type of pitcher he has given glimpses of should his luck normalize?

Next season may well be Josh Lueke’s last chance to prove that he can be a mainstay in a major league bullpen, and not just someone brought up to cover an injury. If not, Lueke may find himself with the stigma of being a Quad-A player.