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  • Writer's pictureAndy Singer

SSTN Mailbag: Loaisiga, The Utility Infielder, And An Audacious Pitching Revamp!


We made it. By this time next week, pitchers and catchers will have reported to Spring Training, and all will again be right in the world. I've been traveling for work for 100 percent of the last 2 and change months, so it has been something of a grind for me. As I said to my wife the other day: I'm finally home, and baseball is returning - the world is healing. For those of us who are diehards (and I'd imagine I'm in a room of peers here), we all have our rituals and routines surrounding milestones in the baseball season, regardless of whether or not that fan is superstitious. I am no different in that regard.


Every year on the reporting date for pitchers and catchers (and again on the official start of Spring Training and Opening Day), I very loudly play "Centerfield" by John Fogerty followed by very gently playing Bernie Williams' rendition of "Take Me Out To The Ballgame." It's a very simple tradition, but one that I am steadfast in performing. This year, my daughter is old enough to enjoy music and celebration, so I'm planning to really indoctrinate her properly to open this season. After all, one of her favorite books is The Yankee ABCs and she already seems to have her dad's left arm (hopefully minus the faulty shoulder). Put her in, coach, she's ready to play!


As always, thanks for the great questions and keep them coming to SSTNReadermail@gmail.com. In this week's SSTN Mailbag, we'll talk about Jonathan Loaisiga's role this year, utility infield options for the bench, and some truly fascinating ideas about modifying pitcher workloads and statistics! Let's get at it:


Brian asks: Matt Blake was discussing filling Mike King's role in the bullpen recently and specifically mentioned Jonathan Loaisiga by name. Is that a good role for Loaisiga and how good could he be at replacing King, who was probably the best reliever on the roster?


Frankly, I was initially shocked at the mention of Loaisiga as the Yanks' multi-inning fireman this year. It isn't really a question of stuff (though we'll talk about that more in a minute): Loaisiga has always had the stuff to start dating back to his early days down on the Giants' farm, with at least three average-or-better pitches and a knack for limiting hard contact. The problem has always been Loaisiga's ability to stay healthy, and nothing there has changed. In fact, since his full conversion to the bullpen in 2021, Loaisiga has missed large stretches of the season in every year other than 2021. Sadly, Loaisiga has structural issues with both his shoulder and his elbow, and there probably isn't a right answer to keeping him healthy. Use his bullets where he's most valuable until those bullets run out.


Which is partially where Blake's plan might make some sense. When Loaisiga is healthy and throwing well, there is no reason why he can't make it through a lineup once in a 2-3 inning role. His value in a 1-inning role could very well be expanded in a multi-inning role such that he could have a 3-4 WAR season like he did in 2021, which would be a huge boost to the bullpen. In a role like this, I would imagine that Loaisiga would have more days between appearances with more certainty over which days he might be used, so the theory goes that it might be easier for him to stay healthy with more routine.


That sounds great in theory, but I don't particularly buy that a multi-inning relief role will help keep Loaisiga healthier. I think no matter what role he's in, Loaisiga will need extra days here and there, and I also think he just has a finite number of pitches his arm can handle before his body breaks down. I'd love for him to prove me wrong, but history is not on his side here.


I also want to note that his statistics from the last few years have really flown under the radar on a team with plenty else to keep us busy. Loaisiga has allowed some of the softest contact in baseball, to be sure. However, he also has watched his strikeout rate decrease almost year over year since his debut, to the point where he struck out just 8.7 percent of batters faced last year, which is so low in the modern game that it almost looks like a misprint. He paired that with an almost impossibly low 1.5 percent walk rate and a .207 BABIP. Even with soft contact, those are numbers that indicate Loaisiga is due for at least some performance regression, unless some of those peripherals improve. I love Loaisiga, but I think we are seeing signs that his stuff isn't what it used to be, so I have some concerns about his performance moving forward even beyond a discussion of his ultimate role.


Jeffrey asks: The most logical Yankee bench right now has two utility infield type players: Oswald Peraza and Oswaldo Cabrera. There have also been rumors about interest in a reunion with Gio Urshela or possibly acquiring another utility type guy for the bench. Do you prefer keeping both Peraza and Cabrera on the bench to begin the year or is it better to acquire Urshela or someone similar? If so, who gets pushed out?


I am really torn on this one. On the one hand, I think there's a point at which the Yankees need to commit to seeing what they have in some of the kids, particularly now that they have made some important changes to the coaching staff.


I always liked Oswaldo Cabrera quite a bit more than the standard prospect rankings, believing he could be a valuable utility guy on a competitive team or a second division regular at 2B/3B. His ability to play RF was a revelation, and I also think quite valuable if his bat plays. Unfortunately, he struggled so hard at the plate last year that I almost think it's not fair to his development to give him an MLB roster spot to begin the year.


Oswald Peraza, on the other hand, is someone that I've never been as high on as some of the hype. While I believe he is a premium defender, I've never thought much of the bat, as it is a lofty swing that is geared for one part of the strike zone. Sure, I can see where he'd run into 20 HR in a season, but that would almost certainly come with a low OBP/AVG. That has value when combined with his defensive profile, but I don't really see how Peraza fits as a starter on a championship caliber roster like the one the Yankees are trying to build. Peraza has proven that he can make plays at both 2B and 3B in addition to SS, and I don't think he has anything left to learn at AAA. The reality is that he needs reps against MLB pitching to reach whatever potential he has. As much as I'd love for him to play everyday somewhere, I think he's a really good guy to keep around as the bench infielder who can immediately get starting reps in the event of an injury, which is inevitable on this roster.


So, as much as I love Oswaldo Cabrera, I think it would be best for the Yankees to commit a minimal amount of salary to a utility infielder who is a good, professional clubhouse guy that can play around the infield. Gio Urshela certainly fits that bill, and he comes with the upside that he has proven he can hit enough to start, though the bat is likely not what it was as a Yankee. I love Urshela (and you know that his best buddy, Gleyber Torres, would be happy to have him back), but I can't shake the feeling that he's holding out for a shot at a starting gig somewhere. I'm not sure he'll get it, which means he could easily find his way back to New York, but he might be a stone's throw too high for the Yankees to shoot for this role.


Tony Kemp is another name that has come up, and he would make a lot of sense, albeit without any upside at the plate. He's a decent defender at multiple positions (2B, 3B, LF), and with Peraza around, he wouldn't need to spell Volpe at SS. Kemp is a good runner on the basepaths, and at the plate, he is actually very disciplined and at least sees a lot of pitches, even if the end results aren't great. I'd consider Tony Kemp to be Gio Urshela-light.


So that's how I lean - I'd like to see the Yanks pick up someone like Urshela or Kemp to give Cabrera time to rebuild his confidence and swing at AAA.


Daniel writes: Daniel here, back again to talk pitching. I sent you this last June. Thank you for your great response. Here is what I said:


 I’ve never seen a discussion about this topic. I find it odd that no team seems to have tried it. 


How about anchoring a pitching staff around 9 guys who can pitch 3 innings every 3 days? That leaves a bullpen of 4 guys who might actually get used less. 


The “starters” would pitch in “teams” of 3. A “complete” game would happen when no bullpen arms are called for. No guy would be expected to get more than 9 outs and no guy would likely ever see the opponent’s batting order more than twice.


 Success would involve keeping each regular starter to around 50 pitches which they would repeat every 3 days. 


 Why not?


I have continued to contemplate the idea that pitching is changing, and that that is a good thing. Limits on innings and pitches are a response to the fact that the training and mechanics are amping up velocity, and straining arms and shoulders to provide greater and greater spin and torque on the ball, but also resulting in many injuries. But the way we measure value is becoming more nuanced, and for the casual fan, lacks the solidity of the measure of winning.


The idea that a team could field 9 pitchers limited to around 50-60 pitches each, in teams of three, where they could appear every three days, skipping the bullpens that starters usually throw between starts, would result in several further improvements in the health and longevity of pitchers, continue to speed up the game, and reduce or change the whole idea of what a bullpen is for, perhaps reducing the number of roster spots needed, and lengthening the bench for position players.


The main problem as I see it is one of bucking tradition, and changing the game in ways that make it harder to compare with the historical precedents of how players are used, and in this statistically focused era, allow players of the modern generation to be compared to their ancestors.


As I see it we are already into this territory. The stat for wins, for example, has already lost most of its meaning. Starters through far fewer innings, and the train of relievers in the average game is nothing like what we used to see in the age of the complete game.


Well. Here’s a suggestion on how to fix that. And I’d like to see what you think.


How about we reinvent the stat called WINS. Call it WINS+ for example.


The criterion for this new stat need to include:


1- Wins formerly accorded by the old formula are still win+s.

2- Any pitcher that has thrown 3+ innings, or 9+ outs in a game is accorded a win+ for participating in a game that his team wins, except when that pitcher loses a lead, either at the beginning of the game, or during their 3+inning stint. (I.e. A 9 out hold during a tie, or a team’s regaining the lead would qualify for a win+.)


This suggestion is just a beginning, off the top of my head. I haven’t really thought it through, but I believe some clever statisticians would be able to tweak it, and get it to work.


The best result would be the return of the 20 to 30 game winners at around the same proportion of total pitchers as it used to be.


The best result would be that, looking back, the win+ stat would reward the best pitchers of the last 20 or 30 years, providing a legitimate comparison in wins, and value to the team, as the previous version of wins did in the “old days”.


This might yield other up-to-date stats valuing shorter, more frequent stints of scheduled pitching, i.e “starters+”. For example, when three pitchers finish off a game together without relievers, they could each get a CG+, win or lose.


If worked out well the result of wins+ would be the return of the win as a significant stat, win+, a true measure of winning. It would value the starter and long reliever (maybe we need new labels for them. “Scheduled Pitchers”? Starters, Middlers, Finishers?) with a counting stat commensurate with their up-to-date value to the team. And, perhaps, we would have a new way of honoring great pitchers with 20 or 30 win seasons.


Pitchers throwing 50 pitches every 3 days, times 53 appearances each in a 162 game season, skipping between start bullpens, would throw approximately 2,650 pitches over 159 innings a single season, about what a middle of the rotation starter now throws. If their team won 30 out of those 53 games, we would likely have a 20+ game winner or two.


The reason I am making this suggestion is that I think that it both saves arms, and rewards winning again. A successful starter now throws 100 pitches in a start, 30 times a year, plus another 30 in a between-start bullpen. That would be 3,900+ pitches in a 162 game season. Perhaps that’s way too many. And without a functional win stat there is no adequate comparison with which to measure the pitcher’s value to the team in an obvious way.


Perhaps a Gerrit Cole caliber pitcher would not be happy throwing only 2,600 pitches in a season, but perhaps he would throw for 5 or 10 more seasons, and perhaps he would retire healthier, and with a lot more career win+s.


Anyway, I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. The only way to change the way we think about pitchers is to adopt some new stats that reflect the changing patterns and rewards of the modern game. And I’m very curious to see what you think.


I have spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about this note from Daniel over the last few days. In fact, I even tried to come up with pitcher usage charts and such to try to refute the premise, and also prove that it could work. As many of you know, and as I believe I wrote in response to Daniel last year, is that I have always wanted an MLB team to utilize 1-3 spots in the rotation for tandem starters; guys who don't have enough to start over the long haul for 6+ innings per start, but who can absolutely thrive pitching 3-5 innings once per week who could also serve as a one-inning reliever on their "throw day" in-between.


Daniel's idea takes it two steps further, building out an entire rotation with 9 pitchers who throw on a 3-day rotation. I completely understand where Daniel is coming from, and I do think the idea has a lot of merit. In fact, I wonder very much if this is where the game is evolving in the long-run. Fewer and fewer pitchers can toss even 180 innings in a season, and I think it's entirely possible that the velocity and strain on arms is such that 200+ inning workhorses are objects of the past. Might Daniel's plan keep pitchers healthier? I think it might, though I'd also argue that players and coaches, looking to maximize performance, might further push the limits of their physical abilities such that injuries will remain static. I'm inclined to side with Daniel, though on this one.


However, the importance of the mid-week bullpen session is a sticking point for me. Bullpens actually help pitchers both maintain velocity throughout a long season and sharpness on all pitches. Daniel's idea is good in concept, though I think the schedule and training regimen would need to be tweaked somewhat, which is why I still think you will necessarily keep 1-2 5+ inning starters on the roster in Daniel's scenario. Think about them like Friday/Saturday starters in college baseball.


The part of Daniel's email I actually find every bit as intriguing is changing the way we think about wins and complete games. Wins have totally lost importance in the modern game (and frankly I have real doubts about their utility even in the classic game), and given that the standards for Hall of Fame induction have typically used Wins as a primary metric, I think we need to create new evaluation standards for modern pitchers who pitch less and don't acquire traditional Wins.


I also think that the modern fan has trouble relating to some of the advanced statistics that people like me pour over, so having a simple statistic like Wins, even in a redefined form, has a lot of value. From the back of the napkin, I actually really like Wins+ as a statistic, though for use in the modern game, I might up it to 4 innings. I still need to chew on a lot of these ideas more, but I wanted to bring this email out even prematurely for discussion. What do all of you think of some of these ideas? I know many traditionalists will hate them, but I also think there's a lot of merit here based on where the game and biomechanics are headed.

16 Comments


Cary Greene
Cary Greene
Feb 09

Injuries forced Loaisiga into the bullpen, he was once a tantalizing prospect as a starter, but those days are long gone. I've NEVER been on board with using Loaisiga in a high leverage relief role, late in games. The numbers throughout his career unequivocally back my sentiments up.



The Yankees have been using him in the wrong role now for years, probably because they A) had Mike King around and B) were mollycoddling both King (who should have been a starter) and Loaisiga, trying to limit their innings for fear of an injury. Niether of these approaches was the right way to handle Loaisiga, a pitcher whose control and results spike in higher leverage situations. In high leverage situations, his…


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Robert Malchman
Robert Malchman
Feb 10
Replying to

You could end the question at, "How many American lagers taste good?" Almost none. Off the top of my head, I can only think of Lone Star. All the other Americans are craft brews like Abita, Anchor Steam, Samuel Adams. The big names -- Budweiser, Miller, Busch -- all should have labels stuck on them: "For External Use Only."

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Melfman1
Melfman1
Feb 09

I don’t know… it’s an intriguing idea, but I keep going back to the old saying of too many cooks spoil the broth. If you have three 3-inning guys, you have to hope that hope that all three are on their game each start. Assuming that’s the case, you can get through a nine inning game. If one or more than one have a bad day, then all bets are off.


It’s the same risk as bringing 4 or 5 relievers into a single game. All it takes is one of those guys to be off on any given day and your game can be lost. The beauty of having guys go deep in a game (7/8 innings) is th…


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fuster
Feb 09

the heart of the idea is really to have individual pitchers face only 9 batters in any particular regular season series of games.

no second looks at a pitcher's stuff

unless the pitcher is one of the late-inning bullpen guys.


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Cary Greene
Cary Greene
Feb 09
Replying to

Succinctly put! Not the story need be long, but it must have taken too long while to make it short! I'm not a fan of baseball games where no pitcher sees any batter more than once. It would be like trying to watch a Rays game, much less enjoy it.


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