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Yankees 2021 Season Preview: Luis Cessa

The right-hander relied heavily on his slider in the last two seasons, but he will need more weapons to fool hitters and keep his roster spot.

MLB: ALDS-Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

For years, Luis Cessa has fulfilled a variety of roles for the Yankees without much fanfare. He doesn’t have the talent of other relievers on the team, like Aroldis Chapman, Chad Green or Zack Britton, but he maintains a spot on the roster because of his versatility.

Cessa has been a spot starter, a multi-inning guy, and a traditional, one-inning reliever for the Yankees during his five-year MLB tenure. The organization certainly values that.

2020 Stats: 21.2 IP, 20 H, 3.32 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 1 SV, 7.06 K/9, 2.91 BB/9, 8.3 H/9, 0.83 HR/9, 0.2 fWAR

2021 FanGraphs Depth Chart Projections: 42 IP, 4.52 ERA, 4.64 FIP, 0 SV, 8.10 K/9, 3.51 BB/9, 1.35 HR/9, 0.0 fWAR

With the additions of Darren O’Day and Justin Wilson, and the presence of Chapman, Green, and Britton, Cessa won’t be handling too much high-leverage work.

Cessa will likely try to find more consistency with his secondary offerings in 2021. And by “secondary offerings,” I am including his fastball, since it’s the slider that is the pitch that he uses the vast majority of the time:

As you can see, Cessa has upped his slider usage almost every year he has been in the big leagues, to the point that he threw it 54.4 percent of the time in 2020. On the other hand, his four-seamer usage has been trending in the opposite direction, as he only threw 16.9 four-seam fastballs last season. He is, however, using his sinker more, at 14.2 percent.

There is a reason behind this rare split. In 2020, Cessa’s slider held hitters to a .180 batting average (.189 expected BA) and a .257 expected weighted On Base Average, or xwOBA, with a 35.1 whiff rate. It was equally good in 2019. Meanwhile, his four-seam fastball was battered to the tune of a .381 xBA and a .533 xwOBA, and had a paltry 5.0 whiff rate. It was a truly awful pitch, small sample notwithstanding.

His sinker (.313 xwOBA) and changeup (.288 xwOBA) were decent, especially the latter. But Cessa really needs to find consistency with another pitch besides his very good slider. He needs to keep hitters off-balance and keep them guessing about what’s coming.

Maybe he can significantly improve his sinker or changeup, enough to keep hitters honest. Or perhaps he can use the Yankees’ tech resources to his benefit and toy with the spin efficiency of his four-seamer: he ranked 319th out of 543 pitchers with a minimum of 250 pitches thrown in fastball active spin, with 85.4 percent.

The point is that he needs more weapons, or else he is risking hitters figuring out that over half of the time, he will throw the slider.

There are only a handful of “sure things” in the Yankees’ bullpen, but there is no denying that there are lots of arms with potential in the organization. Jonathan Loáisiga also figures to have a role, and Brooks Kriske, Michael King, Kyle Barraclough, Adam Warren, Nick Nelson, Albert Abreu, Deivi García, and even Clarke Schmidt could be factors down the road. In the event of a roster crunch, Cessa will need to justify his spot with good performance; otherwise he risks being eventually left out.