A few weeks ago, I argued that Jonathan Loaisiga is primed to play a premier part in the Yankees’ bullpen. Fortunately, Loaisiga has proven my point during the first week of the season. Through three appearances, Johnny Lasagna’s stat line is flawless:
4 Innings Pitched
12 Batters Faced
5 Strikeouts (11.3 K/9)
Perhaps the only thing more impressive than Loaisiga’s numbers is the way he’s accumulated them. Thus far, the young Yankee right-hander looks unhittable. His pitches appear to have great life, and it seems like he has total command of the strike zone.
Yesterday, I dove into Loaisiga’s Statcast page to see if the numbers back up what I’m seeing with my own two eyes. In this case, the nerd test and the eye test point toward the same conclusion—Loaisiga is pitching at an elite level.
Revamped Pitch Mix
The first thing I noticed when I looked through Loaisiga’s Statcast numbers is that he’s made significant changes to his pitch mix. Building off of a trend that began last season, Loaisiga is relying more and more on his sinker. By contrast, he’s throwing his fastball and curveball considerably less than he used to.
Interestingly, Loaisiga’s increased reliance on the sinker has greatly improved the effectiveness of his fastball. So far, the whiff rate on Loaisiga’s fastball is up nearly ten percentage points from last season (25% versus 15.1%). The pitch has great velocity (97.5 MPH average), and it seems to play even faster now that Loaisiga is primarily using it as an occasional alternative to his sinker. I wouldn’t be surprised if the fastball becomes one of Loasigia’s most reliable putaway pitches in 2021.
Increased Changeup Spin Rate
Speaking of phenomenal putaway pitches, Loaisiga’s changeup has become a tremendous weapon in two-strike counts. Of his five strikeouts, three of them have come via the changeup. In terms of spin rate, Loaisiga’s changeup has evolved more than any of his other pitches. Last season, the spin rate on Loaisiga’s changeup averaged 1701 RPM. This season, that number has jumped all the way up to 2070 RPM.
While there isn’t a clear link between spin rate and overall effectiveness for changeups (in fact, many pitchers try to limit the amount of spin on their changeups), Loaisiga’s increased spin rate seems to be a positive development. His whiff percentage on changeups is up from 40.5% in 2020 to 66.7% in 2021. With those results, it’s little wonder that Loaisiga is throwing his changeup more than twice as often this season as he did last year.
Controlling the Count
Another factor that has contributed to Loaisiga’s early success is his penchant for getting ahead of hitters. He’s thrown first-pitch strikes to 75% of the batters that he has faced in 2021. His previous marks were 65% in 2020, 63.3% in 2019, and 63% in 2018.
Controlling the count early has allowed Loaisiga to move outside of the strike zone more effectively. Opponents are only making contact with Loaisiga’s out-of-the-zone pitches 40% of the time, down from 62.1% last year. And, when hitters chase Loaisiga’s pitches and manage to make contact, the ball is usually hit softly. Loaisiga’s average exit velocity allowed in 2021 is 85.5 MPH, up just a hair from the 84.6 MPH average that he allowed in 2020 (which put him in the top 5% of qualifying pitchers last year).
If Loaisiga continues to jump ahead of opposing hitters, then his numbers should continue to look spectacular all season.
I expect Loaisiga to get a lot of innings during Zack Britton’s absence. However, Johnny Lasagna is proving that he isn’t a placeholder—he deserves to play a major part in the Yankees’ bullpen even after Britton returns to action.
Last year, Loaisiga proved that he could be a reliable contributor. This year, he’s proving that he could quickly turn into a legitimate star.