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  • Patrick Gunn

The Curious Case of Jonathan Loáisiga

by Patrick Gunn

February 4, 2023

***

Jonathan Loáisiga looked like the Yankees’ next heir apparent to the bullpen throne before a tough start to the 2022 season. He rebounded, but regressed in several key areas. Even with some lows - including a rising walk rate and questionable strikeout totals - there is still a lot to like about Loáisiga going forward.


First, flashback to January 2022. Loáisiga just became one of the best in all of baseball in 2021: lowest walk rate (5.7 BB%) of his career; 2.18 xERA; fourth amongst relievers in fWAR behind only Liam Hendriks, Josh Hader, and Ryan Pressley.


Then 2022 started (per Baseball-Reference):


Loáisiga missed more time because of injuries, his walk rate ballooned, and he got put in the worst places at the wrong time.


He recovered exceptionally in the second half ending 2022 with an xERA of 3.46 and an essential part of their playoff bullpen. But he did fall off a bit in key marks:

  • His walk rate rose to 9.4% on the season

  • His strikeout rate plummeted to 18.2% - and it got worse in the second half (from 23.8% in the first half to 14.3% in the second)

That raises serious concerns about Loáisiga - but that is only a small fraction of the pitcher. Here’s MLB Savant’s tracking of how batters performed against Loáisiga’s pitches in 2021 and 2022:

His curveball did regress, but Loáisiga had a higher put-away percentage on the pitch in 2022 than in 2021. It just went from nearly immaculate to sometimes hittable. As for his sinker, the expected slugging percentage did jump up about 100 points but look at the raw batting average. That jump of 30 points makes a difference in his slugging and a .372 slugging against is still pretty solid. Granted, his BABIP (.276 in 2021 vs. .278 in 2022) barely changed, so let’s look deeper.


In terms of contact, Loáisiga still ranked near the 100th percentile in Average Exit Velocity Allowed (83.9 mph), HardHit Percentage (29.9%), and Barrel rate (2.0%). Only his Hard hit rate increased from 2022 - and it was at a ghastly 24.1%. To put that into perspective, Nesto Cortes Jr. had a HardHit rate of 34.7% last year. Yes, Loáisiga moved into the 53 percentile in whiff rate, but his chase rate was 98th percentile. Batters still struggled to hit the ball against Loáisiga.


So, what to make in the changes? Well, looking at his contact, Loáisiga did surrender fewer topped balls - from 50.8% in 2021 to 42.4% last season. That means batters got on top of the ball less, most likely resulting in fewer ground balls. But his groundball rate only dropped about 1.5 percent, while his line drive rate jumped just under four. That leads to the biggest jump in Loáisiga’s contact profile: flares and burners. That rate rose from 16.9% in 2021 to 27.2% in 2022. And flares are pretty unpredictable in where they land. And that is how Loáisiga could possibly give up more hits without allowing more hard contact: batters putting the ball in play through short hits that are long enough to reach the outfield grass. Flares can be effective, but they are not the basis of a functioning offense.


All of this suggests that Loáisiga should still be a solid pitcher for the Yankees. The strikeout rate numbers are concerning but he is still getting batters to chase. Not to mention another prominent Yankee sinker ball pitcher - Zack Britton - got by in New York with low strikeout totals. The walks are where I would be most concerned because that just puts free runners on base for a high-contact pitcher. But a healthy Loáisiga should surrender enough weak contact and get better luck with burners to allow fewer hits. There are concerns about his 2022 season and the bullpen as a whole - E.J. Fagan penned a solid recap piece about the current state of the Yankees' pen - but Loáisiga gave too many reasons for either a rebound or a solid year. Loáisiga should be just fine in 2023 if he is somewhere between 2021 and 2022.


Note: Stats come from:



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