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The good and bad from Jonathan Loaisiga’s first two starts

The Yankees aggressively promoted the 23-year-old starter, and he’s flashed some real promise in just two outings.

MLB: Seattle Mariners at New York Yankees Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

At first blush, the Yankees’ decision to promote Jonathan Loaisiga appeared to be an odd one. The 23-year-old had made only six starts above A-Ball. Thanks to a variety of injuries, Loaisiga made just a dozen starts across 2016 and 2017. The Yankees were calling on a rookie with an incredibly limited track record to make starts in a fierce playoff race.

I played a bit of devil’s advocate last week in laying out the argument for Loaisiga, and even then, I hadn’t fully convinced myself. The move just seemed a little too aggressive. After a pair of starts, it’s still too soon to decide how justified the Yankees were in promoting Loaisiga, but we can at least take an upper level view of what Loaisiga’s shown so far, both good and bad.

The bad is fairly obvious. Loaisiga hasn’t displayed much command or control in his two starts in the majors, and he has failed to progress deeply into games. He managed a respectable five innings in his debut, but manager Aaron Boone had to come for him after recording just 11 outs in his second start.

Loaisiga walked four batters in his first start, and two more in his second, or 15.8% of his batters faced overall. Per FanGraphs, just 36% of Loaisiga’s pitches were in the strike zone, compared to the league average of 43%. The ability to consistently hit the zone just hasn’t quite been there so far. Check out this 3-2 changeup that Loaisiga tries to bury against Mallex Smith, only to see it completely sail on him:

That lack of control drove up his pitch count in both starts and forced the Yankees’ bullpen to stretch a bit. That, however, is the worst of what Loaisiga showed, and even that lack of control could possibly be consigned to jitters. Loaisiga’s control was commended in the minors this season; he walked fewer batters (four) in ten minor league starts this year than he has in just 8.2 innings in the bigs.

The real promising stuff that Loaisiga flashed was, well, his stuff. His three-pitch mix of fastball, breaking ball, and changeup immediately looked major-league caliber. There’s still question as to whether Loaisiga has the polish to hang in the majors, but there is no doubting his pure stuff can get hitters out at the highest level.

Quite evident is Loaisiga’s plus velocity. Loaisiga does a great job of getting mid-to-high 90’s velocity on his fastball out of his undersized frame. He gets good extension, too. Statcast measures “effective” velocity, which takes into account how close to the plate a pitch is released. We would expect Loaisiga, at 5’11”, to have worse effective than actual velocity, but his effective fastball velocity (95.7 mph) actually exceeded his actual (95.6).

Sitting about 96 mph as a starter will play, and Loaisiga was mostly able to hold his velocity; his last four-seamer in his debut clocked at 96.1 mph. Perhaps more importantly, though, is that Loaisiga’s secondaries looked formidable. That depth of arsenal is what gives Loaisiga a chance to stick.

His breaking pitch looks like the real money maker. There’s some disagreement as to whether Loaisiga throws a curve or a slider. Brooks Baseball classifies it as a curve, while Baseball Savant has it as a slider. To my eye, it’s a slider, tighter and with not quite as much drop as a true curveball.

This crushing breaker that he unleashed on Christian Arroyo is illustrative:

Loaisiga starts it at the knees on the corner, and leaves Arroyo with no chance as it breaks out of the zone. In his first two starts, Loaisiga got whiffs on 12 of 30 swings against the slider. All of this is small sample, obviously, but so far, Loaisiga’s slider absolutely looks like a weapon.

Scouts viewed his changeup as his weakest pitch, but it did look useful in two starts. Loaisiga garnered 12 swings against the change, six of which were misses. He only threw 21 changeups across the pair of starts, but that equates to 12% of pitches, still enough to be a legitimate third offering to keep in the back of an opposing hitter’s mind.

On the whole, the good probably outweighed the bad in Loaisiga’s initial showings. He generated a heap of swings and misses. He showed easy velocity and formidable secondary pitches. The toolkit for an effective pitcher is clearly there.

He will need to find the strike zone and last deeper in the games if the Yankees are to keep him around, but the fact Loaisiga’s control was so good before his promotion bodes well for his chances of straightening things out. Even if he doesn’t quite figure it out during this call-up, Loaisiga appears to have real talent. Based just on a pair of starts, Loaisiga’s stuff jumps off the page. For an unheralded rookie that was scarcely known even just a year ago, this is a huge success.