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Yankees relief ace Jonathan Loáisiga is struggling with his sinker

The right-hander’s go-to pitch has not been as sharp in 2022 as it was in 2021.

MLB: New York Yankees at Baltimore Orioles Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

The Yankees’ bullpen remains an elite unit. It has accumulated 1.0 fWAR so far, good for fourth in MLB, and it has a 2.84 ERA. The group as a whole has been able to achieve this with one of its best pitchers, Jonathan Loáisiga, struggling in the early going. The talented reliever finished the 2021 season with a stellar 2.17 ERA (2.58 FIP) in 70.2 innings, a career-best performance. Everything has gone south this year, however, although it’s important to clarify that the sample size is tiny, at 6.2 frames (before Wednesday’s game).

Loáisiga has an 8.10 ERA (six earned runs in 6.2 innings) and a 7.43 FIP so far in 2022. His control has been all over the place, too, as he is walking at uncharacteristically high 16.1 percent of the hitters he faces. Most of his problems stem from the lack of effectiveness of his sinker, which is his go-to pitch. It is averaging 97.2 mph in the early going, down from the 98.3 mph it averaged last season. That’s almost one mile per hour, which is more significant than you think. Regarding its movement profile, the changes are minimal, but it is showing slightly less drop and horizontal break:

Loáisiga doesn’t get a ton of swings and misses with his sinker, but even those are down this year. In 2021, he earned a 17.5 percent whiff rate with the pitch, but in 2022, the number has decreased to 15.4 percent. As a result, batters are simply killing Loáisiga’s sinker to the tune of a .483 wOBA and a .502 xwOBA — which means that, judging by the quality of contact hitters are getting, the results should be even worse than he has shown so far, at least with the sinker.

The pitch is just not getting the desired effect: sinking. Last season, it produced a -5 launch angle (degrees), but this year, batters have been able to lift it a bit more, as the number is currently 9. He had a 61.5 percent ground ball rate in 2021, and is at 53.6 for his career. This year? His GB% is 40 percent.

His lousy control so far, his mediocre sinker, and some home run concerns (he has already given up two homers this year, after surrendering only three last year) are, as you probably might expect, a recipe for disaster. The pitch that Austin Hays homered against (a curveball) in the series against the Baltimore Orioles was right in the middle of the plate, which tells us command has also been an issue and a reason that can explain his early struggles.

Another interesting bit of data: last year, he didn’t allow any homers on his sinker or curveball. He has already conceded one with each in the early going this season, which is concerning, to say the least.

Just like Chad Green, who has been struggling with his fastball, Loáisiga is too talented for this to be a long-term issue. He might be having trouble gripping the ball, something that several pitchers have reported so far in 2022, or he might just be in “spring training form.”

Given how dominant he was last year, it’s reasonable to expect a rebound from him, at least to some degree. He might not be 2.17-ERA good in 2022 (or he might!), but there is no reason to think he can’t return to being a relief ace again eventually, provided that he is healthy. The issue with his sinker, however, should not be overlooked, because it has been the root of his struggles so far in 2022.