The Yankees have boasted one of the best bullpens in baseball since returning to contention in 2017, thanks to established arms like Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances, and David Robertson. However, another catalyst behind their quality relief core over the past two seasons has been the surprising emergence of young arms trotting out from behind the bullpen wall.
In 2017, it was Chad Green, who posted an incredible season that included a 1.75 FIP over 69 innings, while striking out over 13 batters per nine innings, including two huge strikeouts in the 2017 Wild Card Game to keep the Yankees alive. Last year, we saw Jonathan Holder burst onto the scene at 25 years old, holding an ERA of 2.06 from April to August, before a disastrous outing at Fenway skyrocketed his stats in the wrong direction. Still, even after that enormous hiccup, Holder returned to efficiency and was a valuable addition to an already deep pen.
There trend could continue in 2019, and it could be needed more than ever should the Yanks fail to bring back Robertson or Zach Britton. Should the Yankees find themselves in search for another quality reliever, they might not have to look any farther than Jonathan Loaisiga. At age-23, Loaisiga got hit first taste of major league experience in 2018 after injuries and the Sonny Gray happening resulted in the Yankees needing innings from wherever they could find them. Loaisiga was one of those reinforcements, and from the start, his premium velocity and strikeout stuff was apparent.
Loaisiga tossed two shutouts over his first three starts of his career, while recording a combined 18 strikeouts over his first 14 innings of work. Of course, he had growing pains, like his six earned runs over 1 1⁄3 innings against the Twins, and literal pains in the form of shoulder inflammation that sidelined him for most of July and August. That comes with the territory of being thrust into a regular starting role after logging moderate minor league innings in Double-A prior to your promotion.
Still, when Loaisiga was healthy, it wasn’t hard to see high-end bullpen potential, especially with his mix of a high-nineties fastball and a sharp, biting breaking ball. Take a look at his start against the Phillies, starting at around the 25-second mark. Here, you can see Loaisiga record both a swinging and looking strikeout on well-placed curves, while getting a third punch-out with a 97 mph heater just above the zone.
Loaisiga averaged 96 mph on his fastball this season, with his hardest fastballs coming in September after recovering from his injury and moving into a strict bullpen role. His fastball could increase even further if he settles in as a reliever, setting up that breaking ball that he did a fairly good job of locating in his first taste of the majors. Like Robertson and Britton, Loaisiga can become another bullpen arm that makes a living down in the zone and keeps balls on the ground and in the park.
Loasiga posted a groundball rate of 49.2 percent in 2018, compared to 45.3 percent for Robertson. Of course, Robertson has his quality cutter that makes him among the most consistent relief arms in the game, so it would behoove Loaisiga to develop another weapon, but that can come with time. We saw Green thrive in 2017 with two great pitches, and he started to develop a third in 2018 after hitters seemed to establish a clearer scouting report. Loaisiga can follow a similar path, one the Yankees have helped pave in each of the past two seasons.