The New York Yankees’ bullpen isn’t what it used to be one or two seasons ago. When Tommy Kahnle was healthy and Adam Ottavino was effective, there were five or six guys that the manager could trust at virtually any situation as recently as 2019. Now, only Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green and Zack Britton are in the so-called circle of trust.
That has forced Aaron Boone to take some risks in spots in which, well, he needs to get out of jams. For example, on Tuesday’s Game Two against Tampa, which the Rays ended up winning 7-5, Jonathan Loáisiga was trusted in a tough spot.
In the fifth inning and the Yankees down 5-4, he relieved Adam Ottavino with one out and men on base, but subsequently allowed one inherited runner to score after Kevin Kiermaier laced a hard-hit single to center field.
One inning later, Loáisiga allowed a home run to Austin Meadows, who hit the ball to dead center and gave the Rays a two-run cushion.
The Yankees didn’t lose solely because of Loáisiga, but the inherited run he conceded and the solo homer he gave up represented the two-run difference with which the game ended. In the playoffs, each run counts. That’s why stopping the bleeding or putting a halt to a budding rally is so important.
At that point, if you don’t want to use Britton, Chapman or Green until later in the game — which is debatable, but understandable — Jonathan Holder or even Luis Cessa appear to be better options. They are used to the reliever role and to coming into the game with men on base, and they have been getting the job done in 2020.
What does the data say?
In 2020, Loáisiga hasn’t been bad by any means, at least before the calendar flipped to October. In the regular season, he had a 3.52 ERA, a 4.41 FIP and a 4.14 xFIP in 12 games (three starts) and 23.0 frames. However, the playoffs have been a totally different story: in two frames, he has a 9.00 ERA, a 13.19 FIP and a 8.62 xFIP with a 4.50 K/9 and a 9.00 BB/9.
In the regular season, Loáisiga has pitched 37.1 innings in low-leverage situations, 34.0 in medium-leverage and only eight in high-leverage spots according to FanGraphs. In those eight frames, he has held hitters to a .167/.313/.292 line with a .261 wOBA, which is more than fine, but it’s not a lot to work with when evaluating his performance.
Loáisiga’s low/high leverage situation splits represent too small of a sample to take anything away from them, and given how he’s fared in the 2020 postseason, it makes sense to demote the hard-throwing righty to a mop-up role.
While it’s not ideal to have pitchers that can only come up in lopsided results, it isn’t an inherently worthless role either. A mop-up hurler still has the responsibility of getting outs. Just not critical, game-on-the-balance outs.
If a game is, for example, 10-2, and the manager calls a mop-up guy from the bullpen, he is tasked with the responsibility of getting the outs needed for the skipper not to overuse other pitchers that are required to be fresh for certain situations. A team is a unit in which everybody’s actions have consequences.
At this point, given his spotty command (in the Kiermaier single, he missed his spot by several inches) and lack of a sustained track record of success, it makes sense for Boone to send Jonathan Loáisiga to a lower leverage role.