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Luis Cessa’s slider is a game-changing pitch for the Yankees

Cessa has an underappreciated skill.

MLB: New York Yankees at Baltimore Orioles Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Before the season started, anyone who looked at the first three series of schedule would have felt optimistic about the Yankees’ chances. Six games in the Bronx against the Orioles and Tigers, then a trip to Maryland to face the Orioles at Camden Yards. One thing fans didn’t expect was immediately losing two of the team’s everyday players in Miguel Andujar and Giancarlo Stanton on top of already injured Aaron Hicks, Luis Severino, and CC Sabathia.

Now depth arms like Domingo German and Jonathan Loaisiga have jobs in the rotation, while a third option in Luis Cessa is in the bullpen. Every season a pitcher contributes to the Yankees roster in unexpected ways. Sometimes they significantly shape the direction of the season. One can even think back to a recent example in 2017 with Jordan Montgomery. Out of the aforementioned arms, I want to focus on Cessa and what he can do.

Last season the Yankees saw Cessa come up multiple times, but most of his work was done in September after rosters expanded. He totaled 44.2 innings in 2018, and 14.1 innings (about 32% of his work load) came in the last month of the season. If you take out one bad outing against Boston, Cessa threw 14 innings with 16 strikeouts and just one walk. The biggest concern being 14 hits allowed, resulting in batters having a .333 BABIP off him for the month. A reliever must have the ability to strike batters out and reduce walks down to a minimum, and in September Cessa was able to do that well.

To get an understanding of what Cessa did last season, I checked some of the data available through Statcast.

Yankees 2018 Slider Percentage with 2300+ Spin Rate

Player Results Total Pitches % of Pitches
Player Results Total Pitches % of Pitches
Luis Severino 959 1133 84.6
Masahiro Tanaka 625 796 78.5
Sonny Gray 317 339 93.5
Luis Cessa 282 288 97.9
CC Sabathia 246 774 31.8
David Robertson 236 263 89.7
MLB Statcast Search

Compared to the rest of the Yankees pitching staff that threw more than 200 sliders and had a spin rate of 2300 or more, Cessa’s slider ranked the highest. After taking a quick look at his arsenal on Statcast, one can see that he used his slider 40.9% of time last year, second only to his fastball coming in at 41.6%. In other words, Cessa has two primary pitches that he mixes together with a changeup (12.9%) and a show-me curveball (4.5%.) The most impressive part about Cessa’s slider is how much it improves each year.

2300+ Spin Rate % Last Three Seasons

Year Results Total Pitches % of Pitches
Year Results Total Pitches % of Pitches
2016 156 239 65.3
2017 165 187 88.2
2018 282 288 97.9
MLB Statcast Search

This pitch has been steadily improving for him over the last three years. While we can only wait to see what the numbers will be at mid-season and season’s end, it’s clear that the pitch will be an important factor for him. Cessa’s fastball has allowed a .300 plus batting average against the past two seasons. Maybe he will try to use his changeup more often, as it has a .250 batting average against, but there is no evidence to suggest that.

So far this season, Cessa has thrown his slider more than any other pitch, and it has yet to allow a hit. Batters have put the pitch into play five times and are missing 45.5 percent of the time. That’s not a sustainable whiff rate, but it does illustrate he will use the pitch as depth players try to prove themselves.

Cessa Slider Stats 2017-2018

Year BA SLG% ISO%
Year BA SLG% ISO%
2017 0.277 0.468 0.191
2018 0.178 0.356 0.187
MLB Statcast

I’m not saying he’ll go 2014 Dellin Betances or 2017 Chad Green on us, but we should all be interested to see what Cessa has to offer in an already stacked bullpen.

Coming into spring training, it was obvious that Cessa would make the big league club because he was out of options. He didn’t let determine his spot on the roster, though. He went out and performed, pitching 18.1 innings allowing only two runs with 19 strikeouts. Spring training performances don’t mean much when it comes to carrying performances to the regular season — take Brett Gardner for example. Cessa’s early goings, however, have been encouraging, and that’s all because of his slider.