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Loaisiga: Starter or Reliever?

Jonathan Loaisiga has been a pitcher featured at the center of the Yankees’ fifth starter competition, along with Clarke Schmidt, Deivi Garcia, Michael King, and David Hale. However, Loaisiga’s role in particular has been up to debate.

Bryan Hoch, MLB.com’s Yankee beat reporter, posted a piece on Saturday stating that Yankees’ brass is still determining whether or not Loaisiga should start or be a long reliever. While the rest of his career in the majors would seem to point to a potential move to the pen, Loaisiga is the Yankees’ best option to, at the very least, start the season in the rotation.

As previously mentioned, Loaisiga has been hit or miss in the majors thus far. He has a career, according to Baseball Reference, 4.55 ERA with 28 walks in 56.1 innings (4.5 BB/9). Looking at his peripheral between his eight career starts and 16 relief appearances, Loaisiga has pitched relatively similarly. His strikeout rate is slightly higher as a reliever (10.5 K/9 as a starter vs. 12.0 K/9 as a reliever) and his home run rate is also slightly higher as a reliever (1.2 HR/9 as a starter vs. 1.7 HR/9 as a reliever). However, his walk rate is nearly the same (4.5 BB/9 as a starter vs. 4.4 BB/9 in the bullpen).

This is to say that, statistically, Loaisiga has pitched at a similar level across both roles in the majors. That being said, Loaisiga has only thrown 56.1 innings in two seasons, so it’s hard to judge him for said performances. He was pitching in a league with heightened home run rates (juiced ball or not) while missing a good deal of time with injuries.

Loaisiga did show flashes of brilliance in his time in the majors. He averaged 96.8 mph on his fastball last season and 95.9 mph in 2018, with a high spin rate on both his fastball and curveball, via Baseball Savant. In addition, his career strikeout rate (11.2 K/9) is fantastic. These statistics would point to the fact that Loaisiga has the potential to be a Major League starter.

Once again, Loaisiga has barely thrown in the major leagues. In the minor leagues, where 45 of his 44 appearances have come in the form of starts, Loaisiga has much lower walk (1.7 BB/9) and home run (0.8 HR/9) rates. His strikeout rates are not nearly as high (8.3 K/9). However, in the past two seasons, Loaisiga has had a rate over 10 at all levels. This would suggest that Loaisiga is fit to start given his sustained success in the minors (did I mention that he has a 2.89 ERA in the minors? Well, he does).

His biggest concerns are command and health. Loaisiga’s command has been spotty in the Major’s, but his track record of effective pitch control in the minors leads me to believe that he would even out with more playing time. As for his ability to stay on the field, Loaisiga could always potentially get injured again. That being said, Loaisiga is healthy right now, and that’s what matters going into the season.

As for the rest of his competition, King, Garcia and Schmidt lack the major league experience right now to warrant getting the fifth spot right now. King struggled to stay healthy last year and may need more seasoning, despite getting his first career appearance in the majors. Garcia struggled mightily with his command last year (54 walks in 111.1 innings, which is, yikes) and needs to prove that he can consistently command his excellent pitches. Schmidt, while arguably having the most impressive spring of the group, has yet to reach Triple-A and is not even on the Yankees’ 40-man roster. That would leave Hale, signed as a non-roster Minor Leaguer. A 32-year old journey man, Hale threw effectively for the Yankees in 20 games last season, with a 3.11 ERA, 3.32 FIP, and a heavenly home run rate (0.5 HR/9 in 2019). However, Hale threw for a ghastly strikeout rate (5.5 K/9…in 2019) and his career numbers suggest that he is not quite that pitcher. In many respects, Hale may be the pitcher who would work better as a reliever if the Yankees sign him out of camp.

This leaves Loaisiga as the last man standing. He may not be the best fifth-starting option in the league, but Loaisiga is a great talent having a strong spring (2.57 ERA in four appearances, with 11 strikeouts and no walks in seven innings) and better minor league numbers that support his promotion. At the very least, Loaisiga is the Yankees’ best option to make the team out of camp and show the world what he’s got.

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