Is It Legit?: Jesus Luzardo, Drew Rasmussen, Jorge Mateo

What can we expect from these five players going forward?


That’s what we’re looking for when questioning whether a player’s hot start is something more than just a flash in the pan. A great fantasy baseball manager needs to be a bit like Sherlock Holmes sifting through all the pieces of the puzzle to figure out the mystery. For that, there are a lot of tools at our disposal. At its core, baseball is a game of numbers.

But therein lies the problem. Those numbers are rarely meaningful this early in the season. It becomes difficult to decipher the mystery with any degree of certainty when the sample size is so minuscule. That was true in the first week of the season. It’s still true in Week 2.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. We can still gather evidence and begin to piece things together. So, let’s solve these cases.


Jesús Luzardo, SP, Miami Marlins


Luzardo’s career has been a roller coaster.

Fresh off of Tommy John surgery, he was drafted by the Washington Nationals in 2016 and then quickly flipped to Oakland where he blossomed into a top prospect. Injuries slowed his early career, including infamously injuring his hand after slamming it on a table in a fit of video game-induced rage. Despite natural talent, he struggled in the majors and he was traded to the Marlins in 2021. A new environment did little to improve his stock at first. In his first year in Miami, he went 4-5 with a 6.44 ERA over 12 starts before again hitting the IL. At that point, many were ready to label Luzardo a bust and move on.

Then a funny thing happened in 2022. A finally healthy Luzardo reached 100 innings for the first time in his career, posting a 3.32 ERA and 10.76 K/9. That production has continued over into his second full season with the Marlins. Through his first two starts, he has a 0.71 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and 15 strikeouts over 12 2/3 innings.

Has the production finally caught up with the pedigree?

One of the simplest ways to rate a pitcher, especially in the context of a small sample size, is strikeout rate (K%) and walk rate (BB%). Luzardo clocks in at elite territory in strikeouts with a 31.3 K% and should be able to maintain something close to that rate after posting 30 K% last season. His walks are on the other end of the spectrum with an awful 10.4 BB%. That is above his career average, but not by much.

Even still, Luzardo is excellent at stranding runners, including those he puts on base for free. Hitters have struggled to make contact with a 40.2 whiff rate, and even when they do, Luzardo’s 46.4 groundball rate helps his defense make easy plays. So, it’s no surprise that Luzardo’s left-on-base rate (LOB%) is 91.7%.

Verdict: Legit. While the walks are worrisome, Luzardo’s ability to generate weak or no contact is well-suited to working out of jams. If he can maintain a strikeout rate around 30% like he did last season, Luzardo would be among the upper echelon of starters. He profiles very similar to Dylan Cease, who had a 30.4 K% and 10.4 BB% last season. While Luzardo certainly won’t keep his ERA under 1.00, something in the 3.00-3.25 range is likely and possibly even better. That will come along with around 200 strikeouts if he can stretch out to 180 innings this season. For a player drafted often around pick 150, that’s a huge profit.


Drew Rasmussen, SP, Tampa Bay Rays


Rasmussen is the latest in a long line of Tampa Bay pitchers that have emerged from the shadows to dominate opposing lineups. He was drafted at the tail end of the first round by the Rays in 2017 but did not sign and was later drafted by Milwaukee. The Rays kept tabs and ended up trading for him in early 2021 despite a below-average showing in parts of two seasons with the Brewers.

He started 10 games for the Rays in 2021 with a 4-0 record and 2.44 ERA. He became a full-time starter last season and pitched 146 innings with a 2.88 ERA and 125 strikeouts. So far this season, he’s been immaculate through two starts. He has not allowed a run through 13 IP with just 3 hits, no walks, and 15 strikeouts. Sure, it’s been against weak opponents (Nationals and A’s), so how confident can we be when he starts facing a lineup with more teeth?

Right off the bat, what jumps out is Rasmussen’s wicked four-seam fastball. It’s been his bread-and-butter pitch for years with 99th percentile spin and an average velocity of 96 mph. He also started working in a new cutter last year which sits in the high 80s, and he has mostly taken an ineffective slider out of the mix. He throws those two pitches over 70% of the time, attacking high with the four-seam and low with the cutter. The cutter is his swing-and-miss pitch with an absurd 43.3% whiff rate this season. The cutter is up in both usage and whiff% and is the primary reason behind his fast start.

Verdict: Legit. This is not a case of just two good starts against bad teams. This is a pitcher making the best use of his arsenal. The Rays have one of the best coaching staffs in the league and have helped Rasmussen build a cutter/four-seam combo that is currently mystifying hitters. Outside of that, Rasmussen has maintained his typically strong groundball rates that help keep the ball in the park. While it may be hoping too much for him to keep up a 10.38 K/9 (7.71 K/9 last year), we’re looking at a pitcher with great control that limits hard contact, keeps the ball on the ground, and now more than ever misses bats.


Jorge Mateo, SS, Baltimore Orioles


Rags to riches. That’s what Mateo is giving you right now after you plucked him off the waiver wire (since he was almost certainly undrafted in your league). In eight starts, Mateo is hitting .280/.357/.520 with 2 home runs, 5 RBI, 7 runs scored, and 5 stolen bases. He hit safely in four of his first six games, including multiple hits in three. He probably was a key piece to your Week 1 victory.

It might be time to thank him and then sell high.

While Mateo has been known to crush the odd pitch here and there, he is no power hitter. He had 52 home runs total in eight seasons in the minors covering 2,818 at-bats. That’s about one home run every 54 at-bats. He’s been slightly better in the majors with 19 home runs in 736 at-bats, but that just means his 13 home runs last year should be about the upper limit of what we can expect.

Even with his hot start, Mateo’s K% is still a poor 23.1%, which would actually be a significant career high. He’s also surviving an elevated ground-ball rate of 52.9% which puts his BAPIP at a completely unsustainable .357. His xBA of .246 is certainly closer to what you should expect moving forward.

Verdict: Not Legit. To be clear, I’m a Mateo fan. I felt he was underrated as a late-round pick going into the season as much as he is overrated now based on his early production. At 28 years old, it’s safe to say at this point that we have a good sense of who Mateo is as a player. He’s a plus-defender with blazing speed who is inconsistent at the plate. He has never posted a positive offensive fWAR in his career and is typically a liability with the bat. His current 177 wRC+ is impossible to sustain.


Matt Chapman, 3B, Toronto Blue Jays


Chapman might be the hottest hitter on the planet right now, which is not something we often get to say about Chapman. He’s a career .244 hitter who sells out for power, which often results in a lot of strikeouts. To be clear, Chapman is not the Javier Báez-type who swings at anything and everything. He rarely chases pitches outside the zone, instead waiting for the perfect pitch in his wheelhouse to mash. More than ever this season, he’s connecting. His 20.8% whiff rate through the first week and a half is by far the lowest of his career. He’s making contact in the zone 87.5% of the time, up from 76% last year.

Verdict: Not Legit. That’s not to say Chapman is a bad player or somebody you should be trying to sell. You likely drafted Chapman expecting a low batting average and lots of home runs. That should still be the expectation. Enjoy the .475/.523/.800 slash line for now, but don’t be surprised when Chapman course corrects with a seven-game hitless streak.


Kyle Freeland, SP, Colorado Rockies


Freeland has yet to give up a run through his first two starts, allowing just 7 hits and 3 walks over 12 2/3 IP while striking out six. It is only the third time in Freeland’s eight-year career that he has gone back-to-back starts without allowing a run. That’s hardly a surprise considering he has only once finished a season with an ERA under 4.00.

Freeland’s fastball, which was his most used pitch last year, is down 2 mph and now sits in the high 80s. That might be why he’s mostly abandoned the pitch through his first two starts and instead is relying more on his sinker and slider. He has thrown the sinker the most. Despite not generating a single whiff on the sinker, batters are hitting just .143 against it. That same pitch was abused last year with a .324 average against.

Verdict: Not Legit. Freeland has gone off script with his pitch mix to get short-term results, but the pitches he’s emphasized through his first two starts are ones that have had little success in the past. With a 4.26 K/9 and a BABIP of .189, it’s no wonder that his xFIP sits at 5.58. Regression is coming and it’s probably coming fast.


Featured image by Doug Carlin (@Bdougals on Twitter)

Ryan Loren

Ryan Loren is a baseball writer for Pitcher List and a Detroit sports fan struggling to remember what it's like to root for winning teams.

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