Since the start of the 2021 campaign, Yankees reliever Jonathan Loáisiga has averaged just over 98 mph with his sinker. It’s a truly nasty pitch. However, throwing that hard and with that much effort comes with a price: the right-hander (celebrating his 29th birthday today) has logged 65.2 innings in the last two seasons, including just 17.2 in 2023.
This year, Loáisiga was placed on the injured list on April 8th, with right elbow inflammation. For those keeping score at home, that was barely a week after Opening Day. He experienced renewed soreness in late April and, a few days later, underwent surgery to remove a bone spur from his right elbow. A long rehab meant that this pivotal season turned out to be a wash for Loáisiga.
2023 Statistics: 17 games, 0 starts, 17.2 IP, 3.06 ERA, 4.56 FIP, 0.00 fWAR, 8.7 K%
2024 Contract Status: Arbitration year three
Loáisiga was finally activated from the 60-day injured list on August 7th. He looked OK for a little while, but on September 12th, he was sent back to the IL with right elbow inflammation. He never returned and that was that.
It was a nightmarish season for the hard-throwing reliever who dazzled in 2021 with 70.2 innings of a 2.17 ERA. He has been suffering from different arm issues since 2022, but it was the shoulder back then. It’s been more than a minute since then, but Loáisiga was also very injury-prone in the minor leagues (he is among the fraternity of pitchers with Tommy John scars). The 2021 campaign was a best-case scenario from a health standpoint.
Perhaps the injuries have something to do with it, or maybe it’s because Loáisiga has chosen to throw his contact-inducing turbosinker more and more, but one of the most worrisome developments of the last two years is that the right-hander’s strikeout ability has been slowly eroding.
Two years ago, “Lo” struck out 69 batters in those 70.2 innings (24.4 K%). In 2022, the tally was 37 in 48 frames (18.2%). This past season, however, saw him fan just 6 hitters in the 17.2 innings (8.7%).
Loáisiga’s strikeout rate has plummeted at the same time his sinker usage has increased: he went to the pitch 54.9 percent of the time in 2021, 63.3 percent in 2022, and 69.9 percent in 2023. Maybe he wants to be more efficient with his pitches and induce contact on the ground for easy outs, but sporting such a low strikeout rate could mean walking a fine line.
Performance-wise, Loáisiga was solid for the Yankees in abbreviated action this year. He posted a 3.06 ERA (albeit with a 4.55 FIP, mainly because of the lack of strikeouts) and 0.85 WHIP in those 17.2 frames, but the Yankees just haven’t been able to count on him staying healthy.
All things considered, the “incomplete” grade is appropriate here. Between the majors and his multiple rehab assignments, Loáisiga simply didn’t accumulate enough innings for anything more than that.
The Yankees bullpen was actually one of their best units: starting pitching was inconsistent beyond Gerrit Cole (and late-season Michael King) and the offense was pathetic. Still, having a healthy, locked-in Loáisiga would have been a major boon to New York’s chances.
The fact that Loáisiga ended the season on the injured list with his recurring elbow issues puts a cloud on his 2024 outlook. He was sent for an MRI back in mid-September, but if it showed something major, word would likely have leaked by now.
As of right now, Loáisiga is penciled for a spot in the Yankees bullpen in 2024 as long as he is healthy. Even if he opens the year that way, it’s fair to wonder how long it will last, given his recent history.