clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Is Luis Cessa a realistic option in the starting rotation?

New, 4 comments

After breaking into the big leagues for the first time, Luis Cessa worked in a swingman role for the Yankees in 2016.

Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

One way or another, Luis Cessa seems to find himself back in New York. Signed out of Mexico by the Mets in 2008, Cessa started out as a shortstop before becoming a pitcher in 2011. He was traded to the Tigers in 2015 in the deal that sent Yoenis Cespedes to Queens, and was later dealt with Chad Green to the Yankees for Justin Wilson. 5 years into his pitching career, he made his big league debut in 2016, compiling a 4.35 ERA in 17 appearances and 9 starts.

Immediately with the Mets, Cessa showed the ability to pound the strike zone. Aside from a one-outing stint with the Mets' Double-A affiliate in 2014, he never averaged more than three BB/9 at any level. He momentarily lost the strike zone with the Tigers' Triple-A team after being traded, but he has brought his strike-throwing ability back in the Bronx. In 70.1 big league innings, he had 1.79 BB/9.

He has also flashed impressive velocity at the big league level. According to Pitch F/X, he maxed out at 98 mph this season, averaging 94.5 mph on his four seam fastball. His slider appeared to be his best secondary offering, holding opposing hitters to a .546 OPS, and generating swinging strikes 19% of the time.

However, just like what seems to be the case with every exciting Yankees starter, his four-seam fastball was knocked around pretty badly. In just 70.1 innings, he allowed 16 home runs, 12 of which came against his fastball. Like fellow Yankee starters Masahiro Tanaka and Nathan EovaldiStatcast doesn't love Cessa's fastball, as its spin rate is roughly league average. He also gets less extension than the average pitcher, meaning hitters have more time to react to it. He has also been shown using a curveball and changeup, although neither pitch has been very useful when it comes to getting swinging strikes.

If he wants to stick around as a starter, he will definitely need to add at least one secondary pitch, and will need to improve his fastball command. His Statcast readings suggest that he might also need to mix in a two-seam fastball or cutter just to give hitters a different look, which gives him more than his fair share of work to do. He is also 24 years old, meaning the Yankees probably expect to get value from him at the big league level next year. Finally, he is listed at 6'0", which is never considered to be a good thing for aspiring right-handed starters.

What cannot be ignored is the fact that Cessa became a pitcher in 2011 and made the Yankees' Opening Day Roster just 5 years later. He was signed as a shortstop, which suggests that he has a good deal of athleticism. However, he was still 16 years old at the time, so this might speak more to the old little league stereotype that the most athletic kid on the team pitches and plays at short.

Looking to the future, it is tough to ignore his strike-throwing ability, velocity, and the ease with which he climbed up the minor league ladder. The Yankees should strongly consider letting him try to develop as a starter. If his changeup and/or curveball can become a reliable weapon, he could easily be a viable option out of the rotation for years to come.

Data is courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Savant.