Even after Jonathan Loaisiga’s meltdown Tuesday night against Kansas City, he has put together an exceptional first half of 2021. Meanwhile, calls from Yankees fans to get him to Denver for the 2021 All-Star Game have increased in volume in recent weeks. Through 39.1 innings in 2021, Loaisiga has pitched to a 2.52 ERA (inflated by Tuesday’s shellacking) and compiled 1.1 fWAR in fewer than 40 innings.
Loaisiga has done all of it by keeping the ball in the park and inducing grounders at career-best rates, even while striking out fewer batters than ever. Baseball Reference’s Katie Sharp also tweeted that he also has 12 scoreless relief outings of at least four outs recorded, tied for the most in baseball. Loaisiga’s first half, alongside my previous look at quietly stellar first halves from Yankees bats, prompted me to look at Yankees pitchers who likewise excelled in the previous decade.
2013 Hiroki Kuroda - 19 GS, 118.2 IP, 2.65 ERA, 1.82 BB/9, 1.9 fWAR
I suspect many Yankees fans have fond memories of Kuroda, who came to the Bronx and delivered length and excellence despite aging from 37 to 39 over the course of his tenure. In that time, Kuroda tossed 620 sterling innings and complied 9.8 fWAR in pinstripes. A Yankees starter averaging 200 innings per year over a three-year span?! Seems like a distant dream.
Kuroda’s first half of 2013 was spectacular, and his All-Star snub was glaring enough to engender questions about why Tigers manager Jim Leyland selected Orioles starter Chris Tillman over Kuroda for the Midsummer Classic. (The answer was, unfortunately, won/loss record.) It’s small consolation for not getting to see him in the All-Star Game that summer, but here are highlights of Kuroda’s early-season gem against Tillman’s O’s.
2013: David Robertson – 38.1 IP, 11.97 K/9, 2.11 ERA, 2.50 FIP, 0.9 fWAR
2013 was not Robertson’s best first half, at least by the numbers. He was magical in 2011 and was rightfully rewarded with an All-Star berth. His 2013 was no slouch, however, as D-Rob mowed down opposing bats to the tune of a 34-percent strikeout rate and leading all Yankees relievers in fWAR.*
*Albeit in a tie with the ageless Mariano Rivera, who did make the All-Star squad in his final season. Good company to keep.
Robertson is another in a long line of dynamic arms that have come out of the Yankees bullpen in recent seasons, and he was as good as ever in early 2013. Alas, he missed out on the Midsummer Classic, as he was nominated in the AL All-Star Final Vote election, but ended up finishing second to surprise Blue Jays reliever Steve Delabar, who would be out of baseball within three years. C’est la vie.
2015: Michael Pineda – 15 GS, 106.1 IP, 1.10 BB/9, 2.69 FIP, 3.2 fWAR
The centerpiece who came to New York in the trade that sent wunderkind catching prospect Jesus Montero to Seattle in 2012, Michael Pineda put together a fantastic first half of 2015. When the Yankees hit the break, he led the club in innings pitched, walks per nine innings, and outpaced Dellin Betances by 1.3 fWAR to lead the pitching staff. In fact, just six AL starters had a higher fWAR than Big Mike, but he didn’t get the call.
Although Pineda never did meet the lofty expectations of an ace for the Yankees, his 2015 first half definitely showed how high his ceiling could be. That was on full display when he annihilated the Orioles in early May with 16 strikeouts, tying David Cone for the franchise record by a right-handed pitcher.
2016: Masahiro Tanaka – 18 GS, 117 IP, 3.23 ERA, 3.28 FIP, 3.0 fWAR
Speaking of Yankees burdened with ace expectations… though Masa never consistently met those after the elbow injury his rookie season, he still put together stretches where he pitched like a genuine MLB ace. His first half in 2016 is an excellent example. Tanaka averaged 6.5 innings in his starts in the first half with an ERA just above 3.00. The only AL pitcher with a higher fWAR at the All-Star break was Corey Kluber (in his prime, no less).
Considering that Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman lurked in a powerhouse bullpen before the latter two were dealt at the deadline, Tanaka gave the Yankees exactly what they have wanted from their starting pitchers the past several years.
2017: Chad Green – 17 G, 33 IP, 11.45 K/9, 1.91 ERA, 0.8 fWAR
The very epitome of a multi-inning fireman, Chad Green burst on the scene in 2017 after a blah 2016 that included a stint as a starting pitcher. He’s been a Yankees bullpen fixture ever since. Like Betances before him and Loaisiga since, Green cut his teeth while giving the Yankees dominance and length in his appearances.
The right-hander only picked up steam as 2017 continued. Green’s 2017 ERA, FIP, K/9, HR/9, and fWAR all remain career-bests for Green, who’s still picking up high-leverage innings four years later. His 2017 first half portended a memorable season that culminated in a clutch and exceptional relief job against the Twins in the Wild-Card game that postseason.
Honorable Mention: 2012: Andy Pettitte – 9 GS, 58.2 IP, 3.22 ERA, 1.2 fWAR
The 2012 season was a strange one for the Yankees pitching staff. It was the first year in a long time that did not feature Mariano Rivera closing out games on the regular after the Hall of Famer tore up his knee shagging fly balls in Kansas City in early May. At the break, though, all five Yankees starters had compiled at least 1.0 fWAR, including Andy Pettitte, who did it in only nine starts. Oh, and this all happened in his age-40 season ... after unretiring in spring training following his absence from the 2011 campaign.
Like fine wine, was Andrew Eugene. A fractured ankle sustained on a June 27th liner back to the mound knocked him out until mid-September, robbing him and us of what looked like a season for the ages (and the aged?). Perhaps if that smash goes a couple inches to either side, Pettitte notches those extra few starts before the All-Star break and squeaks onto the squad in an even more incredible comeback story.
June 16, 2012— NY Yankees Throwbacks (@yankeethrowback) August 7, 2020
Andy Pettitte strikes out 19 year old Bryce Harper three times, with eight swings and misses pic.twitter.com/A9Lx2PDDgx
Honestly, Loaisiga is not the only Yankees reliever who has a case to hit up Coors Field this summer for the All-Star game. Green has been quietly excellent again, and until recent hiccups, Aroldis Chapman looked like he had descended to Earth from another planet for the 2021 season.
Loaisiga, though, is in the middle of a breakout season, much like Green in 2017 and Dellin Betances before that. Loaisiga’s star is burning brighter than it ever has, and a trip to Denver to wear that hideous All-Star uniform would be just desserts for the Yankees’ newest flamethrower.