Luis Cessa, the man the solid 4.11 ERA in 81 innings in 2019, has been MIA so far in the postseason. His number wasn’t called for mop up duty in games One and Two against the Minnesota Twins, and he hasn’t taken the field as a middle reliever or even as a situational righty out of the pen, neither against the AL Central champions in the Division Series nor versus the Houston Astros in the Championship Series.
Every other reliever has been used in the postseason. Aroldis Chapman has seen late-inning work as usual, Adam Ottavino has seen high-leverage duties against righties (albeit in limited fashion) and Chad Green, Tommy Kahnle, and Zack Britton have been bullpen workhorses.
J.A. Happ, who allowed the home run to Carlos Correa to lose Game 2, also pitched. Jonathan Loaisiga has handled mop up innings and was called upon to get critical outs Sunday in Houston, but failed to do so and walked the two batters he faced.
Even Tyler Lyons (a scoreless inning against the Twins) and CC Sabathia have taken the field, the latter as a LOOGY (a specialist against left-handed hitters) to retire Michael Brantley on a grounder. But where is Luis Cessa? Why is he so down on the reliever pecking order after a decent regular season?
A solid, if unspectacular performance
Cessa’s numbers aren’t particularly impressive on the surface: a 4.11 ERA with a 4.87 FIP, with 3.44 BB/9 and 8.33 K/9.
However, he was a dependable arm that covered 81 innings at a respectable level, and he was significantly better in the second half (3.66 ERA, .229 batting average against, and .295 wOBA) when compared to the first half (4.54 ERA, .261 batting average against, and .335 wOBA.)
He was shelled in his last two appearances (5 ER in 1.1 IP, with 4 BB and only one K,) but for a stretch between August 22 and September 24, a little over a month, he had a 0.57 ERA and 3.15 FIP in 15.2 innings.
Cessa has identified that his slider is a better pitch than his fastball, and the breaking ball is now his favorite offering and the one that he prioritizes to get outs. Batters hit .204 against it in 2019, with a whiff percentage of 40.7 and a minuscule .245 xwOBA.
Game Four “follower”?
Manager Aaron Boone announced on Monday that he will approach Game 4 without a traditional starter, going instead with a “bullpen game.” If Cessa doesn’t make an appearance tonight, then he can be an option as a follower after the opener takes care of the top of the order in the first inning.
Cessa can go two or three innings if things break right, as he showed during the regular season. According to FanGraphs, his performance was better the second time through the order as a reliever than the first time.
The first time through the order, he had a 4.10 ERA and allowed 70 hits to 300 batters faced, for a triple slash line of .265/.343/.466. He had a 3.97 BB/9 and 8.21 K/9. In long relief apperances in which he faced members of the opposing lineup for a second time, he accumulated a 4.15 ERA, but only conceded five hits to 43 total batters, for a .122/.140/.220 line, 0.69 BB/9 and 9.00 K/9.
Yes, the sample size is small, but it suggests that he could cover two or three-plus innings if needed. Granted, the Astros are substantially better than your average offense, but Cessa remains in play for a Game Four appearance.
After all, the Yankees are going to need to cover those Game Four innings with their mind on Game Five, as well, which is the very next day. Asking a more traditional reliever, such as Ottavino, or Aroldis Chapman, for example, to pitch multiple innings may be costly from a workload/fatigue perspective, considering that some of them already pitched in the first two games.