Luebke ready to take next step in 2012
By Corey Brock / MLB.com | 02/11/12 6:10 PM EST
SAN DIEGO -- Cory Luebke had no sooner finished an autograph session on Saturday at Petco Park, when a female fan in her 60s approached him and offered him but two words.
"Do better," she said.
Luebke, who is expected to be a key member of the Padres' starting rotation, smiled, though he wasn't entirely sure these were words of encouragement or a succinct review of his 2011 season.
This much is certain: It would be hard to poke too many holes in the season the 26-year-old left-hander had a year ago, as first Luebke proved his worth in the bullpen and then after moving into the starting rotation for good in late June.
Luebke, the 63rd overall selection in the 2007 Draft, become something akin to a sabermetric legend in 2011 with a 9.92 strikeouts-to-innings pitched ratio as well as a stunning 3.02 xFIP (the expected fielding independent pitching, which Fangraphs rates as a good metric to rate future performance).
Only Zack Greinke, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Clayton Kershaw had better xFIP than Luebke, who was tied with Cole Hamels for pitchers with 130 or more innings.
"I thought the second half of the year he really came on," Padres manager Bud Black said of Luebke during Saturday's FanFest.
"Going from a reliever to starter, he made that transition really well. We saw some strides in his pitch development, too. I think this year he's primed to keep that going."
And here's the kicker for Luebke: You can't pin his success on pitcher-friendly Petco Park. In fact, Luebke had a 4.04 ERA at home in 69 2/3 innings and a 2.55 ERA in 70 innings away from San Diego.
Luebke, who was 6-10 overall with a 3.29 ERA in 139 2/3 innings, will likely slot behind Tim Stauffer as the No. 2 pitcher in the starting rotation pending any major developments during six weeks of Spring Training, which begins on Feb. 19 when pitchers and catchers arrive in Arizona.
Luebke will do so coming off a season that saw him make 17 starts after his first 29 appearances came out of the bullpen. The Padres didn't have a spot for him in the rotation coming out of Spring Training and his ability to work multiple innings made him a natural fit in the bullpen to start 2011.
"I wanted to end up in the rotation, but that's where they needed me at that point," Luebke said. "We had a lot of good guys down there ... Mike [Adams], Luke [Gregerson], [Chad] Qualls, Heath [Bell]. So, I learned quite a bit and maybe learned to have a more aggressive approach with going after hitters.
"That's something I took with me when I went back to starting."
Luebke made his first start of the season on June 26 against the Braves -- five scoreless innings with six strikeouts in a 75-pitch effort as he worked up his endurance.
Luebke got to the point where he was still holding his stuff late in games, like when he took a no-hitter into the sixth inning of a victory against the Rockies on Sept. 19. In that start, Luebke allowed one hit in seven innings with nine strikeouts.
"He's got good stuff and he's got an assortment of pitches now that he can feel confident in to keep him progressing," Black said.