With the 2020 season only a few short weeks away, and with Severino’s injury now fully hitting home, the New York Yankees enter the year with some question marks around their starting pitching rotation. Coming with that, naturally, there are also questions about what players will be used in which roles, and exactly how the Yankees will manage the absences of Severino — and German & Paxton for some time — remains to be seen.
However, one guy who is continually being overlooked is Jonathan Loaisiga. With Loaisiga, I don’t look at him and see a guy slot into the rotation for a few months, then be tossed back into a low-pressure role in the bullpen. Loaisiga has three quality pitches and two great ones, and if he is to be solely used as a bullpen arm, I think he is very similar to longtime MLB great, Greg Holland. With that, the first similarity is the size of both pitchers, in that they’re both 5’11 and have a similar delivery as well, where they rely on movement to get their outs.
Behind the Scenes Comparison between Holland & Loaisiga
Below is a table comparing a few of Holland’s statistics from 2015 & 2017 — the first year spin rate was tracked on BaseballSavant was 2015– and Jonathan Loaisiga from ’19 (info via BaseballSavant and Fangraphs)
|NAME||FB Spin Rate||Breaking pitch Spin Rate||FB Whiff %||Breaking pitch Whiff %||FB PutAway %||Breaking pitch PutAway %|
|Jonathan Loaisiga||2422 RPM||2805 RPM||27.8%||45.8%||22.1%||19.3%|
|Greg Holland (2017)||2296 RPM||2172 RPM||19.6%||47.4%||15.9%||36.5%|
|Greg Holland (2015)||2325 RPM||1806 RPM||15.7%||46.1%||21.7%||28.8%|
Now, looking at the table, and without seeing any results or statistics to go with them, Loaisiga is a very comparable pitcher to Holland. While his breaking pitch has more bite than Holland’s, Holland threw a power slider that resulted in incredibly efficient results, whereas Loaisiga throws a hefty curveball.
The purpose of using Spin Rates and Whiff Percentages is to show whether or not the ball is flat, or if it has life and dances. Whiff % is fantastic because it pairs perfectly with spin rate, and shows the results of said pitch. For Loaisiga, his fastball is better than Holland’s was, as part of the reason is true that he throws it an average of 97 MPH, and with that much movement. Interestingly enough, Loasiga’s fastball PutAway % of 22.1% would’ve been the second-highest of Holland’s entire career. Not to mention that Loaisiga’s Batted Ball profile was also solid, as he only gave up a Barrel % of 4.7% — for reference, Britton was at 5.0% and Chapman was at 4.9%.
With that, the breaking ball is where Loaisiga really can shine. His 45.8% Whiff % on his curveball shows that when he hits his spot, and the ball gets the proper break and movement on it, that that pitch is lethal. For Jonathan, working on ironing out the inconsistencies within that pitch, and even his changeup as well a bit would go a long way for his future with this team. His curve in 2019 was his only positive pitch, according to Fangraphs Pitch Values, as it sat at a 4.3.
Essentially, Loaisiga did everything right with his curveball, on the back-end at least, but still didn’t see all that many results from it — as seen by the 19.3% PutAway % to the 45.8% Whiff %.
How he can Improve on his ’19 season
For reference, last season Loaisiga pitched 19.2 innings out of relief, in a limited role. In those innings, he posted an ERA and FIP of 3.20 & 4.38. While the FIP is well higher than his ERA, his numbers were weighed down and massively affected by his lack of control. Loaisiga has stellar stuff, and if he can knock down the rate at which he gives up the long-ball, and also if he can limit the walks — 4.55 BB/9 in ’19 — there’s a great case to be made that Loaisiga tosses 80 innings out of the pen.
Being only 25 years old, and having two plus pitches (fastball and curveball) should be enough of a foundation for him to continue to improve and work, as the New York Yankees have faith in his abilities. ZiPS and Steamer both project Loaisiga’s ERA and FIP to hover right around 4.20 for 2020, which would be another large step forward in his MLB career. If Loaisiga is to end up at around what the projections say — high 50’s for IP, K/9 over 10.00, and seeing a significant drop in his BB/9 and HR/9 — then Jonathan Loaisiga will be a name to watch this upcoming year.
The Greg Holland comp may be a bit washed, as Holland is now ultimately a below-average relief-pitcher, as he is 34 years old. However, prime Holland with Kansas City was one of the most dominant relievers in the game of baseball. Similar to Loaisiga, Holland strikes out batters at a high clip, but also walks a chunk of them as well — 11.53 career K/9 & 4.06 career BB/9. Holland excelled at limiting hard contact, as the percentage of balls that are considered “Hard Hit” never crossed 30% from the years 2011 to 2015. As for Loaisiga, if he can limit the hard-hit balls, and improve the 40.0% HH% from ’19. If Loaisiga can even mimic the performances from Holland’s hey-day (’11-’17), then the New York Yankees have themselves quite the talented arm that’s flying under the radar.
Everyone likes to talk about the back-end of the Yankees pen, as ultimately it is arguably the best in all of baseball. However, what makes this bullpen the “Pinstripe Pen of Doom” is the fact that at any given time, any arm in the flurry of options can go out there and get three outs. In the front end of the pen, being able to throw out one of Cessa, Loaisiga, and Green goes to show that the Yankees put just as large an emphasis on the “lower-leverage” situations, as they do the big moments.
Jonathan Loaisiga looks to take another large step forward this year and help the New York Yankees compete for 28.