After years of dominance with the Yankees, Dellin Betances now pitches for the Mets. That’s not what Yankees fans wanted to hear this offseason, but the team simply wasn’t willing to dish out the money for a player who missed nearly the entire 2019 season, and still has to recover from a partially torn Achilles. The Yankees have enough late-innings bullpen weapons to soften the blow, but they could benefit from the emergence of a young relief pitcher with a surprisingly similar arsenal to Betances.
Jonathan Loaisiga looks absolutely nothing like Betances. He’s 5-foot-11 and 165 lbs, and his delivery doesn’t resemble Betances’ in any way. When he releases the ball, however, he’s one of the few young pitchers in MLB whose stuff could be considered comparable to Betances in his prime.
In 2018, the 6-foot-8 Betances averaged 97.7 mph on his fastball and 84.3 mph on his curveball, with spin rates that consistently grade as well above average. In 31.2 innings of work last season, Loaisiga averaged 96.8 mph on his fastball and 84.2 mph on his curveball, with a fastball spin rate in the 84th percentile and curveball spin rate in the 89th percentile.
Their pitch mix is also quite similar. In 2018, Betances threw 47.8% fastballs and 35.2% curveballs. Loaisaga threw his fastball at 47.7% last season and his curveball at 30.8%. He also mixed in a changeup and a power sinker, neither of which were as effective as the curveball.
It’s also worth noting that Loaisiga made four starts last season, likely dragging down his average fastball velocity a bit. The right-hander has the ability to reach back for triple-digit fastballs and the high spin rate on his curveball started to translate into real results last season. Opponents posted an xBA of .096 and xSLG of just .132 against 182 curveballs from Loaisiga last season. It’s not fair to expect Loaisiga to ever post strikeout numbers quite like Betances, but if he can improve his command he could be something of a Betances lite for the Yankees moving forward.
Betances posted a K/9 of 13.5 or better in all five full seasons with the Yankees, but his BB/9 varied from 2.40 in 2014 to 6.64 in 2017. His stuff was so utterly dominant that he was able to register a 2.87 ERA in 2017, regardless of his erratic location. Loaisiga posted a 10.52 K/9 and a 4.55 BB/9 in his limited action in 2019. If the 25-year-old can improve to a K/9 around 11.0 or 12.0 and a BB/9 closer to 3.5 he could become a weapon similar to someone like Adam Ottavino in the middle innings. He has that kind of stuff, but durability has been a concern since he got injured as a Giants prospect in 2013 and missed the entire 2014 and 2015 minor league seasons.
With Eric Cressey and Matt Blake now on board, the Yankees appear to be taking a new approach to how they’ll apply strength and conditioning programs to their pitchers. If Loaisiga can remain healthy for a full season and put his focus on the bullpen from the start, it could start to make a lot of sense why the Yankees would let someone like Betances walk. He’s not a sure thing, but the best version of Jonathan Loaisiga could be a breakout star for the Yankees’ bullpen in 2020.