The Yankee bullpen has been one of the team’s major strengths over the past four seasons. Since 2017, the Yanks have boasted a high-octane, star-studded staff of relief pitchers capable of dominating opposing lineups. As fans, we’ve had the privilege of watching stars like David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, Dellin Betances, Adam Ottavino, and Chad Green jog across the Yankee Stadium outfield and toe the rubber on a nightly basis.
Over the past few offseasons, however, we’ve seen some of those familiar faces disappear. Robertson signed in Philadelphia after the 2018 campaign, Betances landed with the Mets prior to the 2020 season, and this winter we watched Kahnle and Ottavino set off for Los Angeles and Boston respectively. The Yankees had perfectly good reasons for parting with these players, but the fact remains that the bullpen has fewer big names today than it has in a long time.
Since news broke that Britton will miss the start of the 2021 season, concerns about the Yankees’ bullpen depth have become even more pronounced. Besides Green and Chapman, the team’s relievers are relatively unproven. What sort of innings can the Yankees expect to get from Lucas Luetge, Nick Nelson, and Justin Wilson? What about Luis Cessa and Darren O’Day? With Britton sidelined, all of these relievers will have to take on a greater responsibility.
The man who may have to take on the most responsibility, though, is Jonathan Loaisiga. Boone and the coaching staff seem to be high on Loaisiga, who saw his role increase considerably during the abbreviated 2020 season. Like the Yankee coaches, I’m also confident that Johnny Lasagna is ready to blossom in 2021.
Loaisiga’s 2020 By the Numbers
Amidst the abnormalities of pandemic baseball, Loaisiga put together an impressive 2020 campaign. He appeared in 12 games, pitched 23 innings, and only allowed 9 earned runs (3.52 ERA). Loaisiga surrendered 21 hits and 7 walks over those 23 innings, giving him a WHIP of 1.217—FanGraphs considers a 1.20 WHIP to be above average.
Some of Loaisiga’s 2020 peripheral stats looked solid as well. Last season, the average exit velocity against Loaisiga was 84.6 MPH, down from 89.3 MPH in 2019. Loaisiga also cut his percentage of hard-hit balls allowed from 40% in 2019 to 27.3% in 2020. Both his exit velocity and hard-hit percentage numbers ranked in the top 5 percent of pitchers last season. Loaisiga may not rack up a lot of strike outs, but he doesn’t let hitters square up his pitches.
Loaisiga’s 2020 campaign also provided us with evidence that the youngster is capable of throwing multiple strong innings on any given day. In fact, Loaisiga pitched to a 2.37 ERA in the 8 games where he went for more than a single inning. That’s more than a whole run lower than his overall ERA from 2020 (3.52). Assuming that Chad Green mans the setup role in Britton’s absence, Loaisiga could be a good choice to fill Green’s role as the Yankees’ multi-inning weapon.
Spring Training and Beyond
Generally speaking, I’m not one for putting a tremendous amount of stock in a player’s spring training performance. That being said, Loaisiga has looked good in his three preseason appearances. So far, he’s thrown 6 innings, struck out 5 batters, and allowed zero runs. Thursday’s performance against Philadelphia (3 IP, 1 K, 0 Hits, 0 Walks) was particularly impressive.
While spring training isn’t much of a sample size, Loaisiga has certainly had a positive start to the year. Here’s to hoping that it’s just the beginning of a breakout season for the young Yankee right-hander.