The Yankees are seeing this exciting right-hander evolve into a dynamic rotation piece

MLB: New York Yankees at Baltimore Orioles
Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

All it took was one tweet for the Yankees to go from one of the most exciting teams in Spring Training to one shrouded in a pitch-black cloud.

Gerrit Cole would undergo an MRI on his pitching elbow, creating concern about the dreaded Tommy John Surgery that has ended the seasons of many top pitchers across the league. The Yankees would have to do the impossible and try to find someone to fill his spot in the rotation while he was sidelined, and out of nowhere, Luis Gil would earn a spot on the Yankees coming off of a UCL tear of his own. While Cole is expected to return at some point this season, what Gil has done for the Yankees cannot be overstated.

With the Yankees needing someone to replace the best pitcher in baseball, Luis Gil has exceeded any and all expectations he had entering the season.

Luis Gil is Mastering the Art of Being Effectively Wild

MLB: Chicago White Sox at New York Yankees

This season has been miraculous for Luis Gil, who currently has a 2.44 ERA and 62 strikeouts through his first nine starts after the Yankees put him in place of the injured Gerrit Cole. Few pitchers can compare to his run prevention, but Gil stands alone in one department; walks. It’s hard to celebrate the idea of not throwing strikes, as hitters get better as they get further ahead in the count and can take advantage of a pitcher who is offering free passes and puts themselves in counts where they have to throw a strike.

Luis Gil subverts this trend because, unlike most pitchers, he’s comfortable losing a batter and going after the hitter on deck thanks to his excellent arsenal. Think of how a quarterback is taught to simply throw the football away instead of extending a play and taking a drive-killing sack or back-breaking interception, the rationale is quite simple. Rather than completely erase your team’s chances of scoring on that possession, you live to see another down and try to collect the needed yardage on the following plays.

One of the greatest misconceptions about analytics is that they believe walks are weighed the same as hits when data would suggest that a walk is far less detrimental than even a single:

It may not be as deliberate as someone like Blake Snell, but Luis Gil is not afraid of walking the batter he’s facing and going after the next batter; nor should he be. Location is not his strong suit, but by not forcing strikes in these counts and accepting that he’s going to walk hitters, we’re seeing the baseball equivalent of throwing the ball away when pressured. With a 115 Stuff+ and 31.2% strikeout rate, overpowering hitters isn’t difficult for Gil, but a huge part of what makes his arsenal so enticing is the ability to also limit damage contact.

With a .325 xwOBACON and 5.6% Barrel Rate, batters aren’t punishing Luis Gil in the strike zone, and that’s thanks to how good his arsenal is. People often associate excellent stuff with strikeouts but fail to make the connection between stuff and the ability to limit damage contact. It’s quite simple; having a pitch that hitters are not adjusted to seeing can create difficulty with trying to square up the baseball, and thanks to Baseball Savant’s new Bat Tracking data, we now finally have a way to quantify this.

According to Baseball Savant, how much you “square up” a baseball depends on how much exit velocity you’re attaining relative to your swing speed and pitch velocity. When a ball is squared up, the batted ball has an exit velocity that’s at least 80% of the highest possible exit velocity you can attain based on the previously mentioned variables, and Luis Gil has the seventh-lowest Squared Up per Swing Rate (20.1%) in the league among pitchers who have induced at least 200 swings this season.

We can further evaluate how often Luis Gil is keeping hitters off of their A-Swings by evaluating how often he limits “blasts”. To simplify; a Blast occurs when a hitter can get off a fast swing while being accurate enough with the barrel of the bat to also square it up, and he is utterly elite on a per-contact basis in that regard.

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Hitters aren’t getting the hittable pitches that they would expect to get in the three-ball counts that Luis Gil often gets into, and he has the stuff to make sure that opposing hitters cannot take advantage there. This deadly combination is why despite having a more league-average WHIP (1.08), Luis Gil has the second-lowest qualified average allowed (.152) among starting pitchers.

When you’re in the 83rd Percentile in Whiff Rate and the 90th Percentile in Hard Hit Rate, you not only limit the amount of contact being made, but you also limit the damage that you allow on that contact. Luis Gil isn’t perfect, but he’s an outlier who can dominate in this league if he can continue to evolve as a starter.

Can the Yankees Get More Out of Luis Gil?

MLB: Houston Astros at New York Yankees, luis gil

Location is still very important for success, as excellent stuff can be nullified by poor command, resulting in great pitches being put in hittable parts of the zone. It’s still important to note that while Luis Gil has opted for going after the next hitter, he doesn’t have the command or finesse to reliably do this from start to start, which is the big difference between himself and someone like 2023 Blake Snell. I do truly believe that Gil struggles with location, but we’re starting to see some changes in that regard.

Back on April 15th, Luis Gil walked seven batters in five innings against the Toronto Blue Jays on the road, raising his walk rate to an unfathomable 23%, and his ERA- was below average as well (102). Following that start, Matt Blake honed in on Luis Gil’s shoulders, trying to get them more in line and giving him a better chance of spotting his stuff in the zone with some form of consistency. The results have been more than impressive, and this could be the start of a massive breakout for Gil:

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Instead of being unpalatably wild, Luis Gil has found a way to throw enough strikes to not only cut the walk rate below 10%, but also generate some more swings out of the zone. He’s not striking out as many batters, but the overall trade-off in strikeout-to-walk rate is more than worth it. There’s been an increase in damage contact allowed as well, but he’s blending the benefits of not giving him while also filling the zone enough to pitch deep into games.

We’re also seeing that he’s trusting his secondaries a lot more, and while his fastball is his best pitch, the ability to mix in secondary offerings has made him even more deceptive. His changeup has become one of the best in the game, as he’s generating a .122 AVG and 30.4% Whiff Rate on the pitch this season, resulting in a +5 Run Value. It’s a top-10 changeup in baseball according to Run Value and xwOBA, and the development of this offering has made him a nightmare to deal with for opposing hitters.

There are over 12 inches of vertical separation off of the fastball and changeup, with the slider becoming a bigger weapon in his arsenal in recent outings to help him establish an east-west profile as well. The Stuff+ on his slider has gone from 108 through those first three starts to 116 over his last six, with the command and feel for the pitch coming into form as well. He’s tinkering with a cutter as well, but the ability to generate reliable movement to his glove-side while maintaining the excellent fastball-changeup combination could make him a deadly arm for years to come.

Luis Gil is getting deeper into games, completing six innings or more in each of his last four starts, and that’s a massive development for the right-hander as he continues to build up and get more comfortable handling a starter’s workload. It should also be noted that Gil has just a .259 wOBA allowed when going third time through an order, although his walk rate is way too high (18.9%) for that to continue to hold up.

This isn’t a perfect pitcher, nor should we start assuming that his 2.39 ERA is the norm as well. Luis Gil is going to have a much worse ERA than he currently has right now for the rest of the season, but it’s how he adjusts to the eventual slump that helps us determine where he ranks among starters across the league. I’m more than impressed with what we’ve seen thus far, and Gil is certainly in contention to win Rookie of the Year in the American League.

The Yankees brought up Luis Gil to replace a reigning AL Cy Young winner, and somehow, he’s lived up to the challenge and then some.

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