Aaron Boone recently mentioned Jonathan Loaisiga could be an option out of the bullpen when he finishes rehabbing his right shoulder. The Yankees’ front office hasn’t explicitly stated he is a reliever from now on, but that’s absolutely the stance they should take. Given his history, stuff, and the makeup of the bullpen right now, the Yankees need to stop viewing Loaisiga as a starter and use him exclusively out of the ‘pen.
Loaisigia’s struggles to stay on the field are far from new. He had a healthy professional debut in 2013, but in every season since, he’s spent significant time dealing with injuries. He’s done a better job of staying on the field in recent seasons, but he’s still yet to eclipse 85 innings in a give year. Shoulder problems have held him out of action in each of the last two seasons.
Throughout all the injury struggles, he’s still almost only ever been used as a starter. Of his 60 professional appearances, 54 have been starts. At this point, it seems safe to say that expecting him to throw 80-100 pitches every fifth day just isn’t a recipe for success. Things do appear to be shifting in a different direction, and it’s for the best.
Loaisiga has only been rehabbing his shoulder in games for a little over a week now, and the Yankees are keeping a close eye on his workload. In his first rehab outing last week, he was set to throw either two innings or 35 pitches. He completed two in just 24 pitches.
In his second performance this week, he was supposed to bump it up to three innings, but after recording just two outs in 32 pitches, he was pulled from the game. That’s definitely not a great look, but he is coming off a two-month stint on the IL. His velocity, however, was encouraging:
Here’s the good from Jonathan Loaisiga’s start: 97, 97, 97, 97, 96, 97, 97, 97, 97, 89, 96, 96, 96, 96, 96, 97, 89, 97, 96, 87, 96, 96, 89, 88, 87, 96, 89, 96, 95, 88, 87.— Conor Foley (@RailRidersTT) August 4, 2019
Pitched out of the stretch the whole time.
The key to Foley’s tweet is the fact Loaisiga has been working exclusively out of the stretch. This, combined with Boone’s brief comments, seem to indicate a move to the ‘pen is in his future.
What he’s shown in his limited tenure in the big leagues does seem to indicate he could find success in the bullpen. The raw tools are definitely there. He has an elite spin rate on both his fastball and curveball. Both rank in the top 11% of the league. His average fastball velocity is also equally great and is in the top 10% of pitchers. Plus, these tools have translated to success. His career strikeout per nine rate is comfortably above 10, and he’s generated a well-above-average amount of swinging strikes.
Loaisiga has had problems with walks in his MLB career, but a move to the bullpen might help bring those numbers down a bit. He has struggled to keep his third pitch, a changeup, in the zone. It’s in the strike zone about a quarter of the time. As a reliever, he won’t necessarily need that third pitch and could, at least on paper, get by with just his two superior pitches. Perhaps this would lead to a small decrease in walks.
There’s also the bullpen workload factor. The Rays and Brewers are the only two playoff-caliber teams in the league that have thrown more relief innings than the Yankees this season. The Rays have been able to spread those innings out quite a bit. They only have five pitchers with 40 or more relief innings.
On the other hand, the Yankees and Brewers both have eight pitchers with 40 or more relief innings. The Yankees are asking fewer guys to throw more innings, and that could be a problem come playoff time. Getting the relievers a little rest would do some good, and Loaisiga could be the player to fill that role.
Of course, the natural counterargument to this would be to point out Loaisiga could provide the same help in a starter’s role, but history tells us that isn’t a long-term solution. Not only is health a concern, but Loaisiga has never really been one to go deep into games either. The longest start of his career was 5.1 innings in June of last year.
The Yankees have hinted they’ll move Loaisiga to the bullpen, and that’s exactly the right move. They’ll obviously decide how to use him out of the ‘pen, but Chad Green’s 2017 seems like a safe blueprint. Let him throw an inning or two, keep his pitch count under 40, and give him a couple days rest between appearances.